Bifu leader attacks softly-softly Blair over TSB merger

BARRIE CLEMENT

Labour Editor

Tony Blair's softly-softly approach towards the financial establishment came under fire yesterday from the newly elected leader of Britain's biggest banking union.

In a decisive break with the intently loyalist approach of his predecessor - and the present acquiescence of other union leaders - Ed Sweeney expressed his "incredulity and frustration" over Mr Blair's failure to intervene in the proposed merger of Lloyds and the TSB. Mr Sweeney, who takes over as general secretary of the 130,000-strong Banking Insurance and Finance Union in March, called on the Labour leadership to follow the lead of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists, and to back a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Mr Blair had told the union that he will only pronounce on the merger after completing consultations with management. Mr Sweeney pointed out that it had been several weeks since the proposed deal was announced and 10,000 jobs were under threat.

In an interview, he also set out for the Independent his vision of a new super union for the finance sector, which would include the three remaining staff associations at the clearing banks and organisations representing employees at building societies and insurance companies.

Mr Sweeney, elected last week by a margin of three to one, declared his intention to oppose the "short-termism" of the City using Parliamentary lobbying and industrial action if necessary. Unlike the present general secretary, Leif Mills, Mr Sweeney seems to feel free to speak out about the shortcomings of the Labour leadership and senior management. The general secretary-elect believes the big financial companies and high street banks have moved away from a customer and service-led approach to a policy based on the enrichment of shareholders. He alleged that low staff morale was accepted, and even positively encouraged, by some companies.

The new Bifu leader is the first elected general secretary of the union - Mr Mills, was appointed before laws prescribing ballots were introduced, and remained in office unopposed.

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