Industry calls on unions to join fight: GMB urged to counter politicians' ignorance

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Britain's top industrialists yesterday urged trade unionists to unite with employers in fighting the ignorance of politicians.

Addressing the annual congress of the GMB general union, Neil Johnson, secretary-general of the Engineering Employers' Federation, said that professional politicians of all parties had been letting industry down for decades.

'They really don't know much about industry. They really don't care much about industry. And they certainly don't understand that our time- scales are quite different from theirs,' he told the 650 GMB delegates at the Guildhall, Portsmouth.

The highly unusual invitation to an employer to address a trade union conference was proof that there was more that united the two sides of industry than divided them, Mr Johnson said.

'It's time to take off our dinosaur suits and to start talking real business,' said the federation leader, whose organisation claims to represent 5,000 companies.

The economy was in 'grave danger', with the manufacturing base in long-term decline, accelerated by the recession.

A central problem was that 'our appetite to consume is about to exceed our total ability to produce'.

There was an urgent need for a coherent and sustained industrial policy.

'The problem is that a long-term industrial strategy for prosperity is not a glamorous thing,' Mr Johnson said.

'A long-term industrial strategy does not produce profits tomorrow. Nor does it win votes tomorrow.'

He said there was a need for all main parties to agree a mutual policy. 'Industry is simply too important, with too many people's jobs depending on it, to be a party political punch- ball.'

The only politicians meeting with Mr Johnson's approval were Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, and his Opposition shadow Robin Cook.

They understood the need for a national strategy, he said. 'Let's get industry out of party politics and make it a truly national priority.'

Howard Davies, director-general of the CBI, last year became the first business leader to address the TUC Congress.

The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union is planning a London conference involving Mr Johnson and other captains of industry to discuss the future of manufacturing.