Blair set for clash over workers' rights

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TONY BLAIR is heading for another showdown with the unions at the Labour Party conference despite secret peace moves last week.

The Labour leader met union chiefs in the Shadow Cabinet room last Thursday for an inquest into the "Blackpool debacle" 10 days ago, when the unions' historic link with the party came under threat.

Mr Blair disowned the suggestion by his employment spokesman, Stephen Byers, that the link could be scrapped. The Labour leader was said by one source to be "contrite" at the Westminster summit, while another union leader described his approach as "conciliatory".

However, the peace looks certain to be short-lived. A coalition of unions has put together a demand that Labour in government must give rights at work on day one of a new job. Mr Blair is opposing the move and has privately warned union chiefs that he regards it as "an issue of confidence". But the unions, led by the MSF and the general union GMB and supported by the Transport Workers, insist that John Smith's promise to restore employment rights abolished by the Conservatives must be honoured.

Labour's employment-law specialist, Ian McCartney MP, is this weekend trying to reach a compromise embodying the leader's policy and the unions' demands. But party sources admit that the union leaders are still in a mood to defeat Mr Blair on this issue, which will trigger Tory claims that the unions are seeking to reassert their power under a Labour administration.

Neal Ascherson, page 21