Blair refuses to back rail strike

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR, the Labour leader, yesterday seized the opportunity to redefine the party's link with the unions by resisting intense pressure to throw his weight behind the striking signal workers.

Conveying with unprecedented clarity the message that Labour would not be beholden to the unions' vested interests when it was elected, Mr Blair expressly ignored the policy of the signal workers' union, the RMT, by proposing third-party arbitration as an option for ending the dispute.

And in an undisguised dismissal of criticisms by John Edmonds, the general secretary of the GMB, and other union leaders, who have accused him of loosening the union-party links, Mr Blair warned TUC leaders yesterday that the 'party in government will govern for the entire country'.

Mr Blair reinforced his declarations in starker terms during private talks with union leaders. He said, as he arrived in Blackpool for the annual TUC general council dinner: 'I shall be saying that the Labour Party has a great deal to offer the country in economic efficiency and rebuilding social justice. But nothing of this can be achieved without a Labour Party committed to the public interest.'

Mr Blair's readiness to provoke dismay among traditionalist union leaders had earlier been underlined when he was asked, in an interview with the BBC, if union leaders were not entitled to expect him to throw the party's support behind the signal workers' strikes. He said: 'Then there will have to be a disagreement about that.'

Mr Blair said he had sympathy with the justice of the signal workers' case but 'if I start supporting individuals in the dispute I am doing precisely what I am criticising the Government for doing'.

At the dinner last night, the Labour leader was candid in telling members of the TUC general council that those in the party needed to be honest with each and honest with Britain's voters.

He said that when he committed himself on specifics such as a minimum wage, employment rights and the goal of full employment he was confident he could deliver. But he would never promise goals which could not be achieved: 'You will have to believe me when I say I can't do something.'

Mr Blair's short and often humorous speech was warmly received by a large majority of the general council.

Blair spells it out, page 4

Andrew Marr, page 19