Government has lost unions' trust, admits Hewitt

Patricia Hewitt acknowledged that the Government had lost the trust of the trade unions as she appealed for their relations with Labour to be restored yesterday.

The Trade and Industry Secretary told the TUC conference there was a "widespread perception" that Labour had moved too close to big business.

Union leaders have expressed anger at business figures threatening to leave Britain during talks at Downing Street last week and at Tony Blair over a host of domestic policy differences.

Ms Hewitt told delegates: "We are at a very significant moment in the relationship between the Labour Government and the union movement. We are halfway through the second term and trying to win a third. There has never been a Labour government in that position before. A lot of you ... think we have got ... too close to big business ... I don't think that is the reality, but ... that is the widespread perception. We have to change that and make our ... partnership work better."

A number of ministers, including Denis MacShane, the Europe minister, and Gerry Sutcliffe, a minister in the Department of Trade and Industry were in Brighton to renew links with the unions.

Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Amicus, proposed a motion that was deeply critical of the Government's attitude to manufacturing. He said commentators often spoke of industrial action in Britain, but "the only strike in this country at the moment is the investment strike".

He urged ministers to listen to workers. "We do not expect the Government to dance to the trade union tune ... but it would be nice if they hummed along a bit."

Kevin Curran, GMB general secretary, called for a minister of manufacturing. He told the "doom-mongers" in the Government, CBI and the Institute of Directors: "You may have given up on manufacturing but we have not." He said that if the Government backed the unions' vision for manufacturing it would achieve economic and political success.

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