The TUC in Blackpool: TUC relaunches with a new mission: Only a handful of delegates oppose Congress's adoption of modern management techniques. Martin Whitfield reports

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The Independent Online
A 'NEW' TUC was launched yesterday with not even a whimper of opposition in an organisation infamous for rows, splits and divisions.

As if to emphasise the new spirit of co-operation, only a handful of delegates at the annual conference in Blackpool voted against the reforms which are intended to create a campaigning body in support of workers' rights.

John Monks, at his first congress as the TUC's general secretary, said the case for change was overwhelming in response to falling membership - down from 13 million in 1979 to 7 million - and the need to be effective in the 1990s.

The TUC has embraced many of the techniques of management. It has drawn up a mission statement to create: 'A high profile organisation which campaigns successfully for trade union aims and values, assists trade unions to increase membership and effectiveness, cuts out wasteful rivalry and promotes trade union solidarity.'

Old committees which formed the basis of the TUC's links with the world of work have been abolished and replaced with 'task groups' which are 'outwardly focused'. The first to be established was the 'Relaunch Task Group', with public relations as a large part of the remit. Other task groups have been formed for full employment, representation at work and human resource management (HRM).

Significantly, the first debate of the conference was on the union response to HRM, the theoretical basis of many workplace changes introduced by employers. Phrases such as 'empowerment, involvement', 'customer care' and 'total quality management' are being challenged for the first time where they are being used as a smokescreen for union derecognition.

'Once the union has been derecognised or marginalised, all the employer does is to reassert control over the workplace,' Bernadette Hillon, of Usdaw, the shop workers' union, said.

'That would account for the yawning gap between the language of 'empowerment' and what is really happening.'

Mr Monks, whose low-key speech delivery is the product of a life in TUC backrooms rather than the need to develop fiery oratory to influence mass meetings, said he had seen the best and worst of British industrial relations during his first months of office.

'All this has reinforced my determination to put the TUC in the centre of the battle to turn the tide of ideas in favour of the vulnerable, in favour of the exploited and in favour of people who work or want to work,' he said.

Although the TUC has made overtures to the Liberal Democrats and even invited David Hunt to share a platform when he was Secretary of State for Employment, Mr Monks made it clear that he blamed the Government for many of the problems workers faced.

Abolition of the wages councils controlling the wages of more than 2 million workers, weakened employment protection legislation and assault after assault on trade unions were said to have changed the balance heavily in favour of employers.

However, Mr Monks said he had been detecting recently that the tide may have been switching in favour of the unions.

'Even a government-commissioned survey of industrial relations has revealed that today's insecure and deregulated labour market has returned to the country the conditions that gave birth to the rise of trade unionism,' he said.

'The world of work has become hire and fire, here today and gone tomorrow. And it's become a reality for people who've never known the fear of unemployment.

'Managers, as well as manual workers, have found they're not immune when the P45s come around,' Mr Monks said.