T&G chief issues a warning to New Labour

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was warned yesterday that "the days of New Labour are now numbered'' as the anger in the union movement over Government policies reached new heights.

Tony Blair was warned yesterday that "the days of New Labour are now numbered'' as the anger in the union movement over Government policies reached new heights.

In his address as leader-elect of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G), Tony Woodley told the Prime Minister that working people were "bitterly disappointed'' with Government policies and that Labour Party members were incensed over Britain's alliance in Iraq with a "reckless, aggressive, reactionary'' US administration.

But Mr Woodley distanced himself from the RMT rail union, which risks expulsion from Labour after voting on Tuesday to allow sections of the union to affiliate to other parties.

Mr Woodley told the T&G's biennial conference in Brighton: "It is time to reclaim our party, not walk away from it as a few on the fringes would argue but reclaim it for the values of working class men and women, the values of socialism.''

Mick Rix, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef and, like Mr Woodley, a member of the increasingly powerful left-wing group of union leaders, also took issue with the hard-left stance of the RMT and its leader, Bob Crow. Mr Rix said: "My union's position is to fight within the Labour Party to defeat the New Labour group and reclaim the party for working people.''

After his speech, Mr Woodley received a standing ovation - in vivid contrast to the response to Sir Bill Morris, the out-going general secretary who addressed the conference on Monday. Sir Bill, who argued that those who sought to reclaim the party could end up destroying it, received a muted reception.

Mr Woodley, however, asked the questions that delegates at the conference wanted answered. Why was this the first Labour Government in history under which the gap between rich and poor had grown? Why had it acquiesced in "illegal'' anti-union laws passed by the Tories in violation of international standards set out by the UN's International Labour Organisation?

He said that Mr Blair's administration was also the first Labour Government to extend privatisation and to do nothing to protect working class communities from redundancies and closures.

He said the T&G was prepared to work with comrades in other unions to "put the Labour back in our party''.

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