TUC Conference: Big unions pile on the pressure to join euro

TUC CONFERENCE `Canute' slurs fly over single currency, as party modernisers urge an end to links with organised labour
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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR came under intense pressure from some of the Labour Party's biggest financial backers to prepare Britain for early entry into the single European currency.

After heated exchanges between leaders of the biggest unions, the TUC significantly strengthened its commitment to the euro. Delegates at the conference voted by a clear majority for the Government to take steps to prepare the economy so that Britain had the option of "actively pursuing" entry early in the new decade.

The shift in policy put the union movement firmly in the pro-euro camp considerably in advance of the Government's far more cautious approach.

But there was a clash of opinion among union leaders which echoed a growing conflict at the most senior levels of the Labour Party and the Government. It is understood that Mr Blair, who was initially cautious on the issue, has become distinctly more enthusiastic, whereas the Chancellor of the Exchequer has moved in the opposite direction.

At the Brighton conference yesterday those who wanted to "wait and see" were denounced as "King Canutes", while Euro-enthusiasts were accused of trying to "bluff and bounce" the country into a mad dash into the currency. John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, attacked ministers for failing to offer a lead on the euro and precipitating dismal results for Labour in the European elections.

"If the Government will not explain to the British people the risks that we run by staying outside the single currency, then sure as hell we had better do it ourselves." Backing the motion for early entry, the GMB leader urged the union movement to "get real". There were 11 countries already in the Euro-zone and two more were likely to join. "Then there will only be two - Britain and Greece. One big, one small; two refuseniks against the rest. We will be like `Little and Large' going through our pantomime routine while the rest of Europe get on with real life." He argued that when the Continental tyre plant in Newbridge, south Wales, closes on 18 November, it would be as a result of our position outside the euro-zone.

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union and a leading light in the Britain in Europe campaign, said those who argued that Britain was not ready to join were behaving like King Canute. "The Euro-tide is lapping at our shores. We can't pretend it doesn't exist. We know the reality. We know that the single currency is our lifeline."

Without naming names, he accused union leaders like Bill Morris, leader of the TGWU, who voted against the motion, of "selling out" union members and "living in a fool's paradise".

Later Roger Lyons, leader of the Manufacturing Science Finance union, accused his Euro-sceptical colleagues of being "industrial dinosaurs" spreading scare stories against the interests of working people.

The largest TUC affiliate to vote against the proposition was the TGWU, which is concerned about the impact on jobs and public expenditure of any forced attempt to harmonise the British economic cycle with that on the Continent. Mr Morris said that the country should not be "bluffed or bounced" into the euro.