Unions to give Blair new list of demands

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Indy Politics

The increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister is to face a shopping list of demands from union leaders who are meeting in secret next Tuesday to draw up an alternative Labour manifesto.

The increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister is to face a shopping list of demands from union leaders who are meeting in secret next Tuesday to draw up an alternative Labour manifesto.

Unions affiliated to the party, which still provide the biggest single source of funds, are to demand a major input into Labour policies ahead of the general election expected next year.

Labour's high command have been warned by union "barons'' that they face considerable difficulty in arguing for the extra donations normally provided before elections unless there is a change of direction.

At the top of the union agenda is a demand that Mr Blair begins to distance himself from George Bush, regarded in the labour movement as a dangerous Christian fundamentalist. Mr Blair's continued support for the US President in an Independent interview yesterday will not deter them.

Key affiliates to the party will also call for increased union rights, protection for employees' pensions, a commitment to halt "privatisation of public services'' and a policy to help British manufacturing.

The demands will have considerable resonance among Labour MPs, a growing number of whom believe Iraq could be the Prime Minister's downfall.

Later on Tuesday the union leaders will address a 200-strong meeting of the trade union group of MPs - the first meeting of its kind.

News that the big Labour battalions are to draw up their own manifesto emerges at a critical time for the party - ahead of next month's European and council elections and the party's key national policy forum in July where unions will have a major input.

Chairing next Tuesday's union meeting will be Tony Woodley, left-wing general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. Other speakers are Derek Simpson of the white-collar and craft union Amicus, Dave Prentis of the public-service union Unison and Kevin Curran of the GMB.

The aim of the meeting - which could be the first of a series - is to influence the policy forum and agenda for the conference season beginning in September with the Trades Union Congress, followed by the Labour Party assembly.

Mr Prentis said the object of Tuesday's meeting was to ensure that a third Labour term was informed by radical ideas. "We want unions to play their full part at the heart of the party. We want to reconnect with the voters and heal the divisions caused by the foolhardy involvement in Iraq. People want better services, better schools, better public transport and secure pensions.''

The union leaders are meeting in Westminster for a seminar entitled "Working Together for a Radical Third Term - trade unions and the Labour Government'' under the auspices of Catalyst, a left-of-centre think tank.

The seminar takes place at a time when relations between affiliates and the Government have reached a new low. The RMT rail union, one of the organisations which established the Labour Party, was expelled earlier this year for allowing branches to affiliate to other more left-wing parties.

Next month a reconvened annual conference of the Fire Brigades Union is to debate a motion urging the union to renounce its Labour affiliation in protest at the Government's handling of last year's strikes by firefighters. However, leaders of the larger unions are determined to remain inside the party in order to fight their corner over policies.

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