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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK

UK Politics

Break ties with Labour unions told

Ken Cameron: The unions are not being treated with dignity

The trade union movement should severe its ties with the Labour Party, according to the General Secretary of the Fire Brigade's Union, Ken Cameron.

Mr Cameron said the union movement should split from the party as it was undignified to be treated as "an embarrassing elderly relative".

The trade union movement helped found and has funded the Labour Party since it first emerged nearly a 100 years ago.

His remarks were rejected by other several other union leaders.

Leader of the GMB union, John Edmonds, told the BBC: "I was absolutely staggered by Ken Cameron's remarks. I've know him for several years and I've never heard him express things like this."

Fairness not favours

Mr Edmonds said that the relationship between Labour and the unions had changed over recent years, but he added: "We are not looking favours, but we are looking for fairness and if we get fairness then that is good enough."

But Mr Cameron said: "I think separation could benefit everyone. It would certainly free us up to say what we want without trimming our words for fear of upsetting New Labour."

Mr Cameron set out his views at a fringe meeting of the TUC Congress in Brighton.

He said that had been long supporter of the union movement's ties with Labour but thought they were no longer in the best interests of both parties.

'No longer allies'

"The Labour Party no longer sees us as their natural partners. We can no longer rely on them to be our natural allies," he said.

The FBU, which is planning several strikes across the country, voted at its annual conference earlier this year to use the union's political fund to campaign on behalf of members and that it should not be given automatically to Labour.

The comments by the leader of the Fire Brigade's Union came on the same day as a speech to Congress by Trade Secretary Stephen Byers.

Mr Byers once suggested that ditching the links between the party and the unions was a possibility.

Voice in Parliament

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: "Our link is Labour's link with working people.

"It gives working people a voice in Parliament. It is their link and it is here to stay. I would like to see the links strengthened, not cut."

His views were backed by Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union, said: "It would be completely foolhardy to distance ourselves from the most popular Labour government in history."

Labour receives around £6m a year from union affiliations including £75,000 from the Fire Brigade's Union.

The union payment makes up around 30% of Labour's income.

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