TUC Conference: Single Currency - Unions split over Britain joining euro

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A DISPUTE over Britain's potential entry to the European single currency erupted at the TUC yesterday with leaders of the biggest unions warning that scrapping the pound would lead to soaring unemployment.

The deep divisions within the union movement were laid bare as supporters and opponents of the euro attacked the Government's "wait and see" stance on membership of the economic and monetary union.

John Monks, TUC general secretary, told the conference in Blackpool that a decision to join the euro would boost the economy with cuts in interest rates in the long-term and called on the Prime Minister to give clearer leadership on early entry to the monetary union.

However, Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, voiced the concern of an increasing number of unions that the nation was "sleep-walking" into a single currency and warned that the European Central Bank would impose an even tighter anti-inflationary straitjacket than that imposed by the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee.

Mr Morris said unions had been told to keep quiet in recent years about their fears over the euro because they would damage Labour's election pros-pects, but debate could no longer be avoided.

To loud applause, he called on the TUC leadership to hold an emergency conference before any referendum on joining the single currency to allow all union members to consider the impact on their jobs.

"The experience of the last few years show that full employment and the single currency do not mix," he said. "In the rush to meet the Maastricht criteria, unemployment across Europe has continued to rise.

"If you think the Monetary Policy Committee is invisible and democratically unaccountable you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait till you meet the European Central Bank - at least you know what Eddie George looks like."

Britain's two biggest unions, Unison and the TGWU, both oppose Britain becoming a member of the single currency and are backed by several smaller unions in their claim that it would cost jobs, cut wages and lead to a crippling squeeze on public spending.

Doug Nicholls, general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers Union, called economic and monetary union a "hostile takeover" of the British economy.

Mr Monks said he accepted that many unions had doubts about monetary union but it was clear that the euro could be a bulwark of stability in a world reeling from economic turmoil.

"Staying out in the cold for the time being will look less and less attractive as we see the effects of the UK being excluded from the European Central Bank and the euro group of finance ministers," he said.

He was given strong support by Ken Jackson, general secretary of the electricians' and engineers' union, AEEU, who said that opponents of the euro were "flat-earthers" who failed to see that large sections of manufacturing could transfer from Britain to a cheaper and more stable Europe.

Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, urged delegates to back his campaign to pull Britain out of the European Union. However, the conference rejected his amendment overwhelmingly.

Leading article, Review, page 3