Union `fixers' engaged in vicious pre-vote battle

LABOUR'S CLAUSE IV WRANGLE: Modernisers and traditionalists marshal for ces for April showdown over key tenet in constitution
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Allies of Tony Blair face a tough battle to deliver union support for the reform of Clause IV. Political "fixers" of both right and left in the union movement, which commands 70 per cent of the vote, are engaged in a covert but vicious battle ahe ad of the critical conference on 29 April.

The right believes that when the "chips are down" the union block vote will swing behind Tony Blair. One senior moderate in the movement said yesterday: "When it becomes clear how important this is to Tony's leadership, unions will be faced with a stark choice: Clause IV or a Labour government. I know which they'll choose."

Left-wingers, however, believe that the worst result they are likely to face would be a 50-50 split among union delegates. They argue that the constituency vote, which makes up 30 per cent of the total would then ensure defeat for Mr Blair.

Union activists and leaders of all persuasions yesterday denied there had been any attempt at a crude trade-off on the issue. Unions who are likely to oppose the change said they would simply insist that the clause remained untouched. The RMT transport union is demanding a commitment to the renationalisation of British Rail, but has not sought a statement to that effect from Mr Blair in return for supporting a draft of the constitution.

A possible compromise from the left could be the "Newens option", suggested by left-wing MP Stan Newens. This would retain the wording of the clause, but add an elucidation.

The Transport and General Workers' Union, the largest affiliate with about 10 per of the votes, is expected to take the fundamentalist line, although right-wingers say early returns from branches indicated the union is not "a lost cause" to Mr Blair.

The second-biggest affiliate, the GMB, is expected to toe the Blair line, although some of the more traditionalist moderates in the union still harbour an attachment to Clause IV.

Unison, the public services union, is thought to be firmly entrenched in the left-wing camp, despite the efforts of Tom Sawyer, former deputy general secretary and now general secretary of the Labour Party.

Left-wingers claim the party has moved so far to the right that moderate union activists find themselves in agreement with their more radical colleagues.