LABOUR IN BRIGHTON: Blair pledges unions key campaigning role

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Tony Blair held a private meeting with trade union leaders last month at which he made clear they had a key role in the general election campaign and promised that "rights at work" would be an "important element" of the party's election programme.

Mr Blair's office last night reacted with an angry denial to suggestions that minutes of the 18 September meeting suggested that Mr Blair had struck a secret deal for union funding and help in return for a series of pledges on workers' rights. The short minute of the meeting, chaired by Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, records that Mr Blair "stated that the role of the unions in winning [key targeted seats] will be very important and that he hoped the union co-ordinators will be welcomed into the constituency campaign teams".

Elsewhere the minutes say that an agenda for rights at work will be an important element of the election campaign "with a set of key pledges from the party".

In one sentence which has already attracted the attention of Conservative Central Office John Mann, the party's national officer, had said that "some of the non-affiliated unions" would be involved in planning for the forthcoming general election. This could be legally and politically controversial since there are heavy restrictions on the political participation of unions - like the teachers' organisations - which are not affiliated to the Labour Party".

But Labour said last night: "The fact that Tony Blair meets union leaders is well known. The fact that he does not do business on the basis of deals is equally well understood."

The meeting was a periodic one of the officially constituted National Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Committee.