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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Unions warned over 'self-indulgence'
Union activists dressed as wrecking balls in a PFI protest
Some unions are angry about private finance deals
Tony Blair has pressed trade union leaders to shun "self-indulgent rhetoric" in favour of working in partnership with the government.

Facing criticism from union bosses on a range of issues, the prime minister said unions had a choice between "indulgence or influence".


Don't raise the shout of betrayal when the government says no or won't go as far as we like

John Monks
TUC general secretary
He was speaking at the Trades Union Congress annual conference in Blackpool.

TUC general secretary John Monks earlier warned delegates of the risk of "electoral catastrophe" if relations with the government broke down.

Echoing the message, Mr Blair said most trade union leaders and members accepted that having influence "does far more good than a lot of self-indulgent rhetoric from a few that belongs in the history books".

Many union members are angry over plans for private firms to become more involved in public services, and there are demands for government action over occupational pensions concerns.

There have been calls too for the repeal of Conservative trade union legislation, including bans on secondary pickets.

The prime minister acknowledged that there were difficult issues ahead.

Desire

"There are low paid workers who deserve more, yet we know we have to be careful we don't just swallow up all the extra public service spending on pay, he said.

"There are genuine issues around the desire for employees to have better protection and the need to keep the flexibility of our labour markets."

Mr Blair said no government would ever be able to satisfy all the demands it faced.

But he said the Labour administration was making steady progress - which was "infinitely better than a Conservative one taking us backwards".

Asked about Mr Blair's appeal to choose influence over indulgence, Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of the Amicus union, countered by saying some of his members had to choose between "slavery or sustenance".

"What worries my members is those deals that amount to slavery not sustenance, never mind influence or indulgence," he told BBC News 24.

Mr Monks had earlier appealed to union activists not to underestimate what had been achieved under the Labour government.

Nurture

Mr Monks continued: "Don't raise the shout of betrayal when the government says no or won't go has far as we like.

Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Amicus
Tony Blair is ignoring the attacks of union leaders like Derek Simpson
"When that happens, we move on and wait for our next chance. This is a relationship to be nurtured and protected, not treated carelessly.

"Never forget, when it has broken down - and it has done in the past - the result has been electoral catastrophe and bruising defeats for trade unionism."

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said he believed Mr Blair was listening to the concerns of his members.

Love affair

And John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB, said: "It was a beautifully crafted speech, but only time will tell if the prime minister is genuinely prepared to re-engage with the trade union movement.

"There were no indications that he wants to start a new love affair with the unions, but perhaps there were signs that he might be prepared to start a subtle courtship."

Roger Lyons, joint general secretary of Amicus, said the speech was "outstanding".

But Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, gave Mr Blair "four out of ten" for the speech.

He said he was disappointed there had been no mention of the part-privatisation of the London Underground.

Later, Mr Crow failed to get elected to the TUC's general council.

It is the first time the UK's biggest rail union has not been represented, although he was not expected to be successful.

'Long, slow walk'

Mick Rix, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef, said that by stressing foreign affairs in his speech, Mr Blair was acknowledging that the union movement was not fully behind him.

Pensioners at conference
Pensions are another problem raised at the TUC
But George Brumwell, general secretary of construction workers' union UCATT, said: "We are together on a long, slow walk back to regaining real influence and certainly the last thing any of us want to see is self-indulgence."

Unison general secretary David Prentis described the speech as "skilful and conciliatory".

But he said Mr Blair had "skirted around" the issue of private sector involvement in public services.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said he was "staggered that on the eve of the first national firefighters dispute for 20 years he failed to refer to these dedicated underpaid public servants".

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The BBC's Stephen Cape
"A standing ovation at the end of Tony Blair's speech - but not everyone got to their feet"

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See also:

10 Sep 02 | Politics
08 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Sep 02 | Business
25 Aug 02 | Business
03 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Sep 02 | Business
10 Sep 02 | Business
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