Unions warn of recruitment battle `chaos'

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The Independent Online
LEADERS OF Britain's biggest private sector unions, covering more than two million workers, are warning of a "free for all" battle to recruit members as companies seek to pre-empt new employment laws.

Union officials are expecting a bitter inter-union struggle because employers are trying to strike deals with unions they find acceptable.

One senior official at the MSF manufacturing union has told The Independent that TUC plans to restrict unions to designated industries to avoid competition are unworkable, while Bill Morris, the general secretary of the Transport and General Worker's Union yesterday warned of "chaos" unless the Trades Union Congress got to grips with the looming battle.

Mr Morris pointed out that his union had built up a war chest of pounds 30m to fight its corner. "If we have to defend our position, we are well equipped to do so," he said, ahead of his union's biennial conference next week.

The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, which has started unofficial talks on a merger with MSF and the banking union UNIFI, has already signed agreements outside its normal sphere at the Western Mail newspaper group in Cardiff - where it will be the lead organisation representing print workers, back up staff and journalists - and to represent cabin crew at British Airways' cut price airline Go!

Mr Morris warned that the principles which had guided union recruitment in different areas were being forgotten, adding: "If these principles continue to be lost at the current rate, chaos will ensue."

In a clear reference to the engineering union, Mr Morris implied that some TUC affiliates were signing "sweetheart" deals under the guise of committing themselves to moderate "partnership" agreements. "It's a question of a union saying to management: tell me what you want boss and we will call it partnership."

The inter-union battles could dominate the TUC congress in September and call into question the Government's claim that it is trying to create an atmosphere of harmony. "We are in for an extremely volatile winter, with the whole stability of the union movement being tested," Mr Morris said.

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