Fury over `greedy bosses' attack

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CABINET MINISTERS were furious with the TUC president, John Edmonds, last night after he bluntly told the Government to take action against the "greedy bastards" in Britain's boardrooms instead of calling for pay restraint from Britain's 5 million public-sector workers.

In a head-on collision over the Government's economic strategy, Mr Edmonds called for interest rates to be cut, accused top executives of indulging in the "politics of the pig trough", denounced the "bloated rodents" who held top posts at the privatised water companies and called for tax rises for everyone earning more than pounds 50,000 a year.

The Prime Minister and a string of cabinet ministers were due to arrive at the TUC conference in Blackpool today to smooth over the row, but ministers were said last night to be "spitting blood" over Mr Edmonds' outburst and claims that 300,000 more jobs were at risk.

"Rather than telling us how to run the country you would have thought the TUC would want to address the fact that their own membership is at an all-time low," said a cabinet source.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who is flying to Japan today for a crisis meeting over the turmoil in world markets, was said to be "very angry". But Mr Brown made clear before leaving that there would be no change of strategy or a return to the "boom and bust" of the Tory years. "We are pursuing the right course of action for the British economy," he said.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, traditionally a TUC favourite, also delivered a tough message to the conference that the Government had to keep to its strategy. He told TUC delegates yesterday that union officials should stop talking Britain into a recession. In particular, he took issue with the comments of Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, who said the economy was "within hours" of diving into recession.

Mr Prescott also responded to Mr Edmonds' onslaught by insisting that he had not forgotten his working-class roots.

But Mr Edmonds had rapturous support for his attack on Mr Brown's economic strategy, including a claim that increases in taxation were far better for damping down demand than keeping interest rates high at the expense of British industry.

To a roar of approval from the 800 delegates, Mr Edmonds reserved some of his strongest invective for Stephen Byers, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has led calls for wage rises to be kept to a minimum. "My advice to Stephen Byers is not to blame the workers, but to tell the truth about what goes on in the boardroom," Mr Edmonds said. "A company director who takes a pay rise of pounds 50,000 when the rest of the workforce is getting a few hundred is not part of some general trend. He is a greedy bastard."

The Prime Minister will meet TUC leaders tonight for a private dinner at their Blackpool conference to reassure them that the Government recognises it must do more to tackle unemployment.

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, will today announce a multimillion-pound regional strategy to cope with factory closures, such as the shutdown of the Fujitsu semi-conductor plant in Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency. The jobless will be offered retraining, reskilling and higher education courses. On Thursday, Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will announce the establishment of "flying squads" to tackle areas in crisis after closures.

Mr Blair is expected to use a speech in his constituency tomorrow to announce the provision of grants enabling job-seekers to travel to areas where vacancies exist, echoing the "get on your bike" message from the 1980s by Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman.

Mr Edmonds was accused of resorting to the "language of the saloon bar" by Simon Sperring, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, who said company directors had generated economic growth, while union leaders had presided over a steep decline in their membership.