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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK
Unions warn Blair over Iraq
The Iraq debate rumbles at the TUC annual congress in Blackpool
Tony Blair may get a rough reception from the TUC
The UK's trade unions have urged Tony Blair to seek United Nations approval before supporting a US-led attack on Iraq.

Open in new window : Trade unions guide
The big unions at TUC 2002

TUC General Secretary John Monks told delegates at its annual conference in Blackpool that the United Nations "was the only possible route" towards military action.

In a fierce debate, the leaders of some of Britain's biggest unions, including Unison and the CWU, stressed their opposition to a US-led war.

But an amendment flatly opposing military action in Iraq by the US or anyone else was narrowly defeated by the block votes of the TGWU, GMB and Amicus.

Blair frustration

Nevertheless, the level of opposition to any military action voiced in Monday's debate means Mr Blair faces a rough ride when he addresses the TUC conference on Tuesday.

Mr Blair is expected to use his speech to outline his frustration with the UN's stance towards Saddam Hussein's breaches of its own resolutions.

Bill Morris
Bill Morris: There must be evidence before thoughts of war
The prime minister's official spokesman said Mr Blair would tell the conference the UN could be "route" to resolve the issue but it "must deliver" on weapons inspections.

Left-wingers will attempt to force Iraq back on to the TUC agenda after Mr Blair's speech, RMT leader Bob Crow told BBC News Online.

Anti-war amendment

John Monks led off Monday's debate by saying the TUC opposed "any military action on a unilateral basis, being contemplated by the United States - or any other nation".

"That way lies disaster. the only way, the right way, is through the United Nations," he continued.

Many in the trade union movement are against any form of attack on Iraq, regardless of UN approval.

Keith Sonnet
Keith Sonnet: Cast doubt on the special relationship's value

White collar rail union the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) tabled an amendment calling on the UK government to "withhold support" for a US attack on Iraq.

The amendment was supported by shopworkers union USDAW, the RMT, NUJ, ASLEF, Unifi and Unison among others.

But it was defeated by 3.4m votes to 2.3m on a "card" vote.

Keith Sonnet, of Unison, said: "If the special relationship has to be paid for in blood and it means mindlessly following what George Bush wants, I say let's end that relationship."

Billy Hayes, of the Communication Workers Union, said the "trade union movement is no friend of Saddam Hussein" but "British public opinion" did not want war.

Deaths warnings

And in a typically combative contribution, ASLEF general secretary Mick Rix said: "There are times when fudge won't do."

He said tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis would be killed and the Middle East plunged into chaos, in order to further US oil interests.

He urged union members to join an anti-war demonstration on London on 28 September.

However, TUC General Secretary John Monks urged delegates not to back the amendment, saying it was too "sweeping".

Evidence call

Amicus joint general secretary Roger Lyons also angered left-wingers by saying the TSSA amendment could have been tabled "by the trades council of Baghdad".

Transport workers leader, Bill Morris also backed the general council's motion and rejected the TSSA amendment, despite voicing his vehement opposition to war.

He said: "Before contemplating war anywhere, show the people the evidence, because if you cannot our voice is a simple one.

"Read our lips: no more war."

But the government had a narrow escape.

The amendment might have been carried if if left-winger Derek Simpson had officially begun his term of office as general secretary of Amicus, union sources indicated.

'Repeal union laws'

Earlier in the day, the TUC called for anti-union laws to be repealed and called for more union rights in the workplace.

There were also demands for legislation to force companies to provide good pensions schemes.

Calls for strike action by firefighters in their continuing pay wrangle also got backing.

The militant RMT rail union also said it planned to ballot its members on the London Underground, Merseyrail and the Newcastle Metro to refuse to work on safety grounds if the firefighters striked.

Andrew Marr reports:
"This year, the TUC are here to rain on Tony Blair's parade"
Mick Rix, Aslef General Secretary
"This war is not about the great myth of weapons of mass destruction"
The BBC's Jonty Bloom
"This year the protestors' message proved popular with the delegates and union leaders"

Key stories


Union voices



See also:

09 Sep 02 | Business
08 Sep 02 | Politics
08 Sep 02 | Business
09 Sep 02 | Politics
08 Sep 02 | Politics
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