Labour backers split over pro-euro stance

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A deep split in Labour ranks over the merits of the euro was exposed yesterday as the party's biggest affiliates clashed over the single currency at the TUC conference in Blackpool.

A deep split in Labour ranks over the merits of the euro was exposed yesterday as the party's biggest affiliates clashed over the single currency at the TUC conference in Blackpool.

A pro-euro declaration by the TUC's ruling council was passed, but amid deep concern about the impact of the currency on public services. Even those backing the official position expressed anxiety about the potential effect of joining the monetary system without safeguards.

Unison, Labour's biggest backer, together with the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU), its third largest backer, opposed the statement, while Amicus and the GMB general union backed it. The division will almost certainly reappear at the Labour Party conference in two weeks' time.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, said Britain would have choose between the euro and the maintenance of quality social provision and decent hospitals and schools.

Arguing that a referendum on the currency should be postponed until the next parliament, he said rushing a decision would mean: "Hello euro, goodbye public services."

British manufacturing needed more than a "one-off gamble" of joining the euro, he said. It needed investment and higher skills. He pointed out that unemployment had risen in both France and Germany.

He described the eurozone as a "rip-off Europe" where retailers had exploited the introduction of the currency by increasing prices.

Greg Tucker of the RMT rail union – another important Labour Party affiliate – said that on top of Gordon Brown's five tests his union would put forward five of their own: Was the euro designed to benefit workers or multinationals? Did the euro represent democracy or the concentration of power? Did the euro challenge the neo-liberal agenda or integrate it into the heart of the European Union? Did the currency strike at the heart of social provision? Would it create jobs or destroy them?

John Edmonds, leader of the GMB, who spoke in favour the general council statement, said later that it had been passed by a convincing majority. On a card vote 3,514,000 voted for the statement and 2,313,000 against. Mr Edmonds said: "The Prime Minister tells us that we should commit ourselves to Europe. That commitment should start at the top. Thirty years in the European Union and still ministers yearn to be regarded as a special friend not of France and Germany, but of the American President."

The "no" campaign said the TUC statement was less pro-euro that previous declarations. A spokesman said that it raised concerns about public services and price rises which had not been expressed by the union movement before.

"The whole momentum of the TUC congress has been against the euro," the spokesman said.

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