Sceptical unions welcome 'change of tone'

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Union leaders greeted Tony Blair's speech yesterday with a response bordering on enthusiasm. General secretaries of the big unions - which provide the largest single source of Labour Party funding - said the Prime Minister's address "pressed all the right buttons".

Union leaders greeted Tony Blair's speech yesterday with a response bordering on enthusiasm. General secretaries of the big unions - which provide the largest single source of Labour Party funding - said the Prime Minister's address "pressed all the right buttons".

Most senior figures in the movement believed that Mr Blair was finally listening to their arguments, although there were warnings that the Prime Minister had to deliver on his promises.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "There was a remarkable change of tone in that speech, so the general election must be even closer than I expected.

"Not only did he make a reference to the Warwick accord, he gave an open commitment that it would be implemented. He set out many of the commitments in full - it is just a shame that he did not give those seven years ago."

Asked why the response of delegates was muted, Mr Prentis said the Prime Minister had been addressing a "sceptical" audience, adding: "We need to know this was not just a speech tailored to a trade union audience, but it is the first speech where I have heard the Prime Minister praising trade unions."

The speech, however, would not end seven years of scepticism overnight. "It will be interesting to see what he says at the party conference and at the CBI."

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: "It was both a serious and a seriously good speech."

He added: "It showed the Prime Minister at ease with the trade union movement, setting out a clear role for unions in making Britain a fairer place."

Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, expressed satisfaction at Mr Blair's focus on the domestic agenda. He said the lukewarm response from delegates was due to the after-effects of the "illegal and unjust" war in Iraq.

He said: "The battle lines are now clearly drawn between going back to the Tories, who will deliver reduced public spending, or sticking with the Labour Government that has increased spending.

"It's the first time I have heard the Prime Minister say go out and join a trade union."

Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, said: "Those were good words and we now need greater action to deliver the third-term Labour government that working people deserve."

He acknowledged that Mr Blair's speech was not "electrifying", but said the response from delegates was in keeping with the tenor of the Prime Minister's delivery.

Kevin Curran, general secretary of the GMB union, said there was no "dynamism or energy" in the Prime Minister's speech. He said: "It was a warm, inclusive speech. He is very good at these things, but it is delivery we're after now."

But Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said he was "disappointed and angry" that Mr Blair made no reference to the dispute in the Civil Service.

Mr Serwotka condemned "massive contradiction" in the speech, arguing that Mr Blair had criticised bad employers at a time that the Government was planning to cut more than 100,000 civil service jobs. He said: "I was left with a feeling that he is not practising what he is preaching."

GRASSROOTS REACTION

MONICA WALSH, Delegate from the TGWU

"It will be hard to get the vote out after such a lacklustre performance by the Prime Minister. People won't be voting for the Tories but they might go for fringe parties or just stay at home on election day."

GLENN KELLY, Delegate from Unison

"He could not bring himself to say that people should join a union. I think there's anger. In the absence of a party that represents the interests of workers, people are not voting."

IVAN MOLDAWCZUK, Delegate from Ucatt, the construction union

"It's just waffle. He talked about the agreement between Labour and the unions at Warwick but he never gave us any specifics. He talked a lot, but he didn't say very much."

HEATHER BARNETT, Delegate from Amicus

"Did he just say things because of the finances? All the time people are just saying they just want to throw the whole thing in. They see that Tony Blair is not offering anything."

SUE MILLMAN, Delegate from Amicus

Delegate from Amicus "I left the Labour Party on the day the war was declared. This was trailed as something that was going to give us something. It offered very little in terms of something new."

GARETH DAVIES, Delegate from Community, former steelworkers' union

"It's certainly the speech you hear when you are coming up to an election, but you can't have a protest vote in a general election, you have to shoot to kill."

Comments