Threat to unity as appeal by Willis fails: The Trades Union Congress in Blackpool

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The Independent Online
THE UNION movement's hopes for unity were under serious threat last night as the Trades Union Congress looked set to demand tough conditions for the re- admission of the electricians.

Despite an impassioned plea, Norman Willis, the TUC's beleaguered general secretary, failed in an attempt to preserve a united front at this week's 124th annual congress.

Delegates are expected to call on the non-TUC electricians' organisation on Thursday to hand back all members allegedly poached from other unions since they were expelled from the TUC four years ago over single-union deals.

The electricians, now a section of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, will also be expected to 'divest themselves' of other groupings which are considered to be rivals of TUC unions.

The conditions are set out in a motion submitted by the National Union of Journalists and the GPMU print union, which refused to accede to Mr Willis's request that it should be set aside.

The NUJ's non-TUC rival the Institute of Journalists was taken over by the electricians and the GPMU saw 2,500 of its members dismissed after the EETPU co- operated in recruitment for News International's Wapping plant.

Big battalions like the Transport & General and the National and Local Government Officers' Association are expected to ensure the motion's success.

Bill Jordan, president of the AEEU, formed out of a merger of the electricians with the engineering union, said the NUJ motion was not in the interests of 'unity and fraternity'.

John Edmonds, leader of the GMB general union, pointed out that delegates were also expected to pass a statement agreed unanimously by the TUC's ruling general council that takes a more conciliatory line over the electricians. Mr Edmonds contended that under TUC rules the statement would take precedence.

Meanwhile, interest grew in a suggestion that the TUC general secretary should be elected for five years rather than until retirement. Gavin Laird, general secretary of the AEEU, said the union would submit the idea to a working party on the TUC's future.

Mr Willis, whose leadership has been under fire, remarked at a pre-congress press conference that the idea was 'interesting'.

He also pointed to constructive discussions that had been going on to have the electricians re-admitted. He was confident that the conference, whose central theme is 'working for full employment', would be seen as a display of unity.

The movement's realism was shown by the fact that Howard Davies, director-general of the CBI, would be addressing delegates tomorrow - the first employer to do so.