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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Unions urge end to 'soap opera'
Brendan Barber
Mr Barber says there's been enough soap opera
The leader of Britain's trade union movement has urged the government to "get its act together" and end the "soap opera" on the Labour leadership.

Brendan Barber used the opening day of the TUC conference to say the unions and Labour members want a clear vision and competent management.

And the chief of the biggest union, Unison, warned would-be Labour leaders not to take union support for granted.

Delegates in Brighton have also mounted an attack on Labour's reform agenda.

They want to halt the use of private firms to run key public services.

The charge came as NHS supply staff voted to take strike action over the privatisation of NHS Logistics, which provides everything from bedpans to Weetabix to hospitals.

'Knee-jerk'

The start of the conference has been overshadowed by the past week's turmoil over Tony Blair's plans for leaving Downing Street.

TUC CONFERENCE
What union delegates make of Labour's leadership turmoil

Mr Barber believes the uncertainty over the leadership has damaged the Labour Party and the government.

He told the conference Labour had improved public services and delivered a strong economy.

But the government had too many "self-inflicted wounds", including a foreign policy which tied Britain too much to the US and a hands-off approach to job losses in manufacturing.

Mr Barber said voters wanted to see a new sense of purpose.

"Not just competent management, not just policies that people can identify with, but a clear vision, a sense of what a Labour government is for," he said.

"An over-arching commitment to social justice, not a leadership soap opera. Sustained strategies for improvement, not government by initiative.

"Proper debate, as we had on pensions, not knee-jerk announcements driven by tabloid prejudice."

March timetable?

The TUC leader also urged trade unions to go beyond their "comfort zone" and try to recruit the millions of non-union workers.

Amid the continued talk about the Labour leadership, Unison chief Dave Prentis had a blunt message for those "waiting in the wings".

"You've ridden on our backs for too long," he said. "Don't take my union and this movement's support for granted.

"You'll have to earn it, and it starts with the NHS."

The conference saw the launch of a new campaign to defend the NHS against privatisation.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Unions should keep out of politics
Ian Ross, Edinburgh

And there was a double blow for Mr Blair as motions criticising his reform plans for public services and pensions came under fire.

Delegates said the link between pensions and earnings should be restored before the next election, not wait until after the poll as ministers plan.

And they said the state pension should be increased immediately to 114 a week. Plans to raise the state retirement age beyond 65 should also be scrapped.

Market fears

A motion saying reform of public services "has rapidly become a fundamental attack on the role of the public sector" was also passed.

It said: "There is no role for markets in public services because they are harmful, wasteful and unjust."

The leader of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents thousands of civil servants, called for a national demonstration and "day of action" over privatisation.

Mr Blair will answer his critics when he addresses the conference on Tuesday.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Watch Brendan Barber's TUC conference speech



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