Tony Blair was given a stark warning last night that his plans to involve the private sector in public services will face a fierce backlash from trade unions at this year's TUC conference.
John Monks, the TUC general secretary, said the Prime Minister would feel the full "anxiety and anger" of trade unionists over the issue when he addressed the gathering in Brighton next month.
Mr Monks, who added that Mr Blair's second-term government had had "the shortest honeymoon on record", made his remarks as news emerged that unions have prepared a raft of highly critical motions for the annual conference. The Labour leader looks certain to face his stormiest TUC since he came to office, with attacks expected on his public-private plans, weak parental rights and proposals to charge for employment tribunals. The extent of the opposition Mr Blair faces became clear as the final agenda for the conference was published yesterday, with 15 critical motions from Britain's biggest unions on "privatisation" alone.
The TUC agenda confirms Downing Street's fears that it could face an "autumn of discontent" over private-sector involvement in public services, with similar anger likely at the Labour conference in October.
If the motions are endorsed by the TUC, they will, in effect, put the union movement on a collision course with the Government over one of Mr Blair's most cherished policies. After the general election, Mr Blair failed to reassure union leaders that private-sector involvement in health, education and other services did not mean privatisation.
In his most strident comments to date on the issue, Mr Monks made clear there were still serious concerns over exactly what Mr Blair would introduce in his second term. He told BBC News 24's One to One programme, due to be broadcast tomorrow: "It's the shortest honeymoon on record. The area that's most concerning the TUC is what the boundaries are between the public and the private sector in the delivery of public services."
Mr Monks, normally a staunch ally of Mr Blair, said he could foresee "a difficult period of relationships" between the TUC and the Government as unions launched public campaigns opposing the plans.
"There is a strong reaction on the public-private issue around the trade union movement ... and there's more aggression in the relationship than there's been since Neil Kinnock started to change Labour round with a lot of union support," he said.
The final TUC agenda includes critical motions from Unison, which has some 1.5 million public-sector workers as members, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the GMB. The National Union of Teachers will lead the charge with a motion calling on the TUC to oppose "for profit" schools and the use of private firms in running schools or support services.Reuse content