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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 20:15 GMT
Labour's union relations hit new low
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair 'clearly angry' by Monks' attacks
Labour's relations with the trade union movement have plunged to a new low with Tony Blair labelled "stupid" by the TUC leader that he in turn branded "out of step".

The row began when the union's general secretary, John Monks, called Mr Blair "bloody stupid" to ally himself in the European Union (EU) with right-wing leaders like Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.

This led to a clearly angry Prime Minister breaking away from an EU summit in Barcelona to publicly denounce Mr Monks.

Mr Blair suggested Mr Monks had been "mistaken" in his views - criticising Britain and Italy for blocking any extension of workers rights.

He said most centre-left leaning people took a "more modern view".

TUC general secretary John Monks
John Monks wants a "social dimension" in workers' rights laws

"There is a growing recognition across Europe that to have a successful European economy with high standards of living and create more jobs, we have to work with the world as it actually is."

The Prime Minister's decision to become so heavily embroiled in a domestic political row while on an international visit was being seen as a measure of his fury at Mr Monks' comments.

The bitter war of words broke out after weeks of steadily worsening relations between the unions and the government.

Beginning with Mr Blair's attack on "wreckers" in the public, they culminated in Thursday's one-day strike by 2,200 London teachers.

Alarmed

The unions have been particularly alarmed by suggestions the government is backing away from promises to safeguard pension and employment rights of public service staff whose work is contracted out to the private sector.

But it was Mr Blair's agreement with Mr Berlusconi last month on workers' rights that was the particular focus of the TUC leader's anger.


The unions are fed up with playing the role of stooges to the Prime Minister

John Monks

Mr Monks warned if workers could not see any employment benefits from the EU they were unlikely to vote for the euro in a referendum.

"They will find it very difficult to sell the euro to British workers if there is no social dimension in parallel," he told The Times newspaper.

He complained the unions were "fed up with playing the role of stooges" to the Prime Minister and likened their relationship with Mr Blair to Ernie Wise's with Eric Morecombe where "little Ernie got clouted".

Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, also weighed in with his fears over Mr Blair's actions.

He told the BBC's PM programme: "It seems to me they (Labour) are working very hard to lose the core support of the ordinary working people they enjoyed during the past two elections."

And of Mr Blair's co-operation with Mr Berlusconi, he said: "There is an old saying, 'Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are'.

But Mr Blair made it clear he was in no mood to compromise either on his economic strategy or his decision to join with right-wing leaders on occasion.

"I work with leaders from around the world, whatever political party their government is.

"I do not choose their countries' presidents or prime ministers," he said.

Earlier, chancellor Gordon Brown had entered the fray, defending Mr Blair and the government as "pro-enterprise".

As far as the British contingent was concerned, the row overshadowed the main business of the Barcelona summit - to drive forward the economic reform programme established two years ago at Lisbon.

See also:

15 Mar 02 | Business
Comrades no more?
15 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Man of many Eurofriends
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Unions unconvinced by Blair
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
New Labour 'enters third phase'
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Battle on for union support
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Number 10 denies 'wreckers' apology
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