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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Union 'discontent' over Labour
The RMT showed its anger with Tube strikes
The government faces a conference season of discontent unless Labour opens up a "real dialogue" with the trade unions, the general secretary of one of the UK's biggest unions has warned.

John Edmonds, of the GMB, fired the broadside a day after the rail union RMT voted to scrap traditional allegiances, worth 44,000 to 13 constituencies, including heavyweight Labour MPs including John Prescott and Robin Cook.


It is going to be a very difficult conference season and a very difficult Labour party conference

John Edmonds
Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), said the union should sack the 13 MPs currently on its pay roll because Labour has failed to renationalise the railways.

On Thursday the Communication Workers Union is voting at its conference on whether to retain links with the party.

Mr Edmonds is reportedly channelling his union's contacts with the government through Chancellor Gordon Brown in protest at the antics of Downing Street's "spin machine".

He said the general problem between the two sides was over employment law and the rights of working people.

'Venting of anger'

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Unless we can open up a real deep dialogue between the trade unions and the Labour government during the summer, it is going to be a very difficult conference season and a very difficult Labour party conference."

Billy Hayes
Hayes: Unions are 'not being listened to'
CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: "I think there is going to be a real venting of anger and concern about the drift in some of the policies of the party and that is going to come out in the debate.

"Certainly we share the concerns of other unions. Our members are starting to feel distanced from the party."

The union still considered Labour its party, he said, but: "We are beginning to feel that we are not being listened to, particularly on employment law ... We are still a long way short to get the changes that we get to make this country comparable with the rest of the world."

National interest

Chancellor Gordon Brown was dismissive of the growing split between unions and Labour.

"That is a matter obviously for this union. The decisions that we make as a government, will always be decisions that we will make in the national economic interest," he told Today.

"We will not make decisions for sectional interests or because one union says its got to have this or that."

John Prescott
John Prescott has lost the RMT's backing
On Tuesday, the RMT agreed overwhelmingly to make a hefty cut in its financial contribution to Labour, from 110,000 down to 20,000 - the biggest proportionate reduction so far by any union.

The union also gave approval to a measure which will scale down its affiliation level to the party from 56,000 members to just 10,000.

Speaking after delegates voted for the changes at the RMT conference in Southport, Mr Crow claimed Labour had betrayed working people and had failed to renationalise the railways.

'Cash and delivery'

Delegates voted to switch their allegiance from the likes of Mr Prescott to a fund available to 14 left-wing MPs, including Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Ann Cryer and Brian Donohoe.

But not all MPs offered the funding accepted it.

Labour's Gwyn Prosser said: "In the case of the RMT, they have changed the rules and they effectively want MPs to sign up to a specific charter and specific lists of policies so that is far too close a link between cash and delivery."

Clive Soley, former chairman of the Labour Party, said he was "fairly relaxed" about cutting financial links with the unions, stressing that state funding was the only safe way to go.

'Loss of influence'

"The Labour party has tried taking money from the trade unions. We have tried to take it from business. We publish all the lists and make it all above board and we still get blamed.

"I have been saying for some time we need to have state funding."

Labour's Tom Watson, a former official for the engineering union AEEU, said unions that cut their ties with the party "usually ended up in the wilderness and lost their influence".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
General Secretary of the RMT, Bob Crow
"We are going to set up a campaign group"
See also:

26 Jun 02 | UK Politics
25 Mar 02 | UK Politics
27 Mar 02 | Business
26 Mar 02 | UK Politics
07 Sep 01 | UK Politics
21 Jun 01 | UK Politics
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