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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Blair 'seeks to ease Labour tensions'
Tony Blair
Blair is said to have been in private talks with union leaders
The government is reportedly trying to ease tensions with the trade unions ahead of what could be a series of crunch votes at next week's Labour conference.

Trade unions are said to be ready to focus their fire at the conference on the government's foundation hospital plans and calls for greater workers rights.

Iraq and university tuition fees are two other key issues which have provoked disquiet among unions and Labour grass roots members.

Yet on public services the old mentality remains
John Reid
Health Secretary

But a decision about which contemporary resolutions go to a vote will only be taken by the conference on Sunday.

The Labour leadership says it does not want to prevent any debate on Iraq. The issue will, vote or not, be discussed as part of the foreign affairs debate.

The unions look set to force votes on pensions, union rights, manufacturing and public services, including foundation hospitals.

But constituency parties could ensure there is an Iraq vote if more than half of them call for it to happen on Sunday.

About 30 constituencies have put in motions on Iraq, and almost as many have also submitted motions attacking the treatment of British terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay.

Despite much controversy over student tuition fees, there are relatively few contemporary motions on the issue.

Rights deal?

Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to be privately meeting senior union leaders ahead of the conference to try to defuse possible rows.

On Thursday, the Financial Times said the government was offering a compromise on workers' rights at the conference.

Unions have already secured a deal on ending the "two-tier" workforce in local government.

The latest deal is reported to outlaw "two-tierism" - the gap between workers employed by the public sector and those working for private contractors - across public services.

Labour's 'old mentality'

The move, which would attract business criticism, may not be enough to stave off damaging opposition to the foundation hospital plans - which would give trusts more freedom from Whitehall control.

Health Secretary John Reid makes his latest bid to urge support for the scheme with an article in the FT.

He argues that the NHS cannot be managed from Whitehall and only greater flexibility can provide services tailored for individual services.

He invokes the spectre of a previous crunch Labour conference vote as he explains why he thinks foundation hospitals face opposition within the party.

Dr Reid writes: "One reason is that the Labour Party has long had a tendency towards centralisation.

"When we abolished the old Clause Four of the party constitution - which committed Labour to nationalisation - we began to develop pluralist policies that have helped to create a dynamic economy.

"Yet on public services the old mentality remains."


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