Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Saturday, 6 September 2008 14:35 UK

Darling set to face union chill

Ben Wright
BBC political correspondent

Alistair Darling
The chancellor can look forward to a glum reception

Alistair Darling is likely to get a rapturous standing ovation from his Trade Union comrades when he addresses the TUC conference on Tuesday.

But only if he does the following: Hands clasping the podium he lambasts the greed of energy companies and slaps a tax on their profits.

He then promises to reverse much of the anti-trade union laws of the 1980s and, with sorrowful contrition, agrees that the 2% pay deals punishing public sector workers are causing misery and should be re-opened.

For good measure Mr Darling announces that the rich have had it too easy under New Labour and should be squeezed until the pips squeak.

The hall goes wild, delegates faint, Blairism is buried.

Of course none of that will happen. Mr Darling is likely to get the same glum, chilly reception that has greeted most Labour leaders and cabinet ministers at the TUC conference in recent years.

In fact this year the atmosphere could be more hostile. The economic downturn changes a lot.

Strike calls?

The Trade Unions are furious that at a time of rising prices public sector wage rises are being kept at 2% when inflation is running at 4%.

The conference is likely to back a motion calling for co-ordinated strike action for the same day.

Individual unions would still have to ballot their members on whether to strike but it would be a shot across the government's bows.

The political backdrop to this year's conference could be combustible too.

Union leaders are anxious to avoid Brighton getting bogged down in speculation about Gordon Brown's future.

But it will be there. There is now a very real chance that the next government will be a Conservative one and that might focus minds on Labour's dire predicament.

Any talk of plots or hints that union leaders are pulling their support will be seized upon.

Tony Woodley
It's the economy and what he does to improve the situation for ordinary people that will determine whether this prime minister survives
Tony Woodley

The Labour party is more reliant on Union funds than it has been for years.

In the first quarter of this year they made up more than 80% of donations to the party.

That figure dropped slightly in the most recent quarter but it's still sizable.

But that's unlikely to translate into policy influence over the Labour Party.

In July Gordon Brown was quite clear, saying Labour would never return to the days when trade union legislation was written by the trade unions themselves.

And calls for trade union legislation to be revisited were defeated at Labour's national policy forum in the summer.

But Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the biggest union, Unite, is bullish.

"I personally believe that Brown is best placed to lead us forward but that's only on the basis that he walks away from the Blairite policies of the past", he told me.

"It's the economy and what he does to improve the situation for ordinary people that will determine whether this prime minister survives and whether this government survives.

"It will not be that there's a plot or plan to undermine him or unseat him."

We'll see.

But Alistair Darling's appearance at the TUC conference on Tuesday is likely to demonstrate that it's not only much of the public who seem fed up with the government, but many on their own side are too.

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