Brown kicks off leadership drive by trying to win over super-union

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Gordon Brown began his post-election campaign to become prime minister with a speech aimed at wooing the massive vote wielded by a giant union in the Labour Party.

Gordon Brown began his post-election campaign to become prime minister with a speech aimed at wooing the massive vote wielded by a giant union in the Labour Party.

At the annual conference of Amicus, he acknowledged the growing strength of the organisation in Parliament, pointing out that some 112 MPs were members of the union, more than the number of the Liberal Democrats and members of the small parties combined.

He said that a proposed merger involving the Transport & General and the GMB general union would give the organisation more parliamentarians than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats put together.

The Chancellor's presence at the conference in Brighton was also prompted by the fact that members of the 2.4 million-strong super-union would have up to 20 per cent of the vote in the electoral college which elects the new Labour leader. The enlarged organisation would also wield 30 per cent of the vote at Labour Party conferences.

Greeted with polite rather than enthusiastic applause, Mr Brown promised Amicus delegates that all the elements of the Warwick agreement would be implemented. The deal between the Labour high command and union leaders reached last July at Warwick University involved a series of concessions on employment rights. In his address, Mr Brown acknowledged the help the party had received from the Amicus general secretary, Derek Simpson, during the election and the £2m donation from the union towards the fighting fund. The Chancellor reassured the union, the biggest in the private sector, about the importance of manufacturing, an issue dear to Mr Simpson's heart.

The Chancellor said that with Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, he would be drawing up a coherent strategy for manufacturing. "Let no one think manufacturing will be allowed to be a sector of the past, to be praised for its historic role but somehow not relevant to the future. Our aim is modern manufacturing strength. And let no one tell you otherwise, for this government, manufacturing not only has been, but remains and will always be critical to the success of the British economy."

He said that his aim was not to replace manufacturing with services but to build modern manufacturing.Aides to the Chancellor followed the orthodox tactic of briefing ahead of his speech that he was going to lay down the law to delegates.

Despite a brief mention of wage discipline in the public sector and a confirmation that ministers would refuse to drop their opt-out from European legislation on working time, one Amicus official described his performance as a "love-in". Mr Simpson said the key section of the Chancellor's address was his commitment to honouring the Warwick agreement. "We are also pleased he acknowledged the contribution of Amicus to the re-election of the Labour Government. But we disagree with Mr Brown over the opt-out from laws on working hours and we are committed to campaigning for it to be dropped."

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