Unions resist Blair appeal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

Labour Party leaders went on the offensive last night by accusing some union leaders of being out of touch with their members for opposing Tony Blair's appeal to change the party's Clause IV commitment to public ownership.

But a leaked internal report from Unison, the public service workers' union, obtained by the Independent, showed that the Labour leadership may have misjudged the mood among rank-and-file trade unionists, who are opposed to the change.

The survey by Unison - which narrowly rejected Mr Blair's proposed change at its conference on Thursday - shows the union's vote accurately reflected the split in the rank and file over the modernisation.

The findings will reinforce the view among Labour's critics that the trade union movement is proving resistant to Mr Blair's attempts to widen the party's appeal to Tory voters in Middle England. One of his lieutenants said: "Tony has won over the constituencies, but he has not included the trade unions in his programme... It is a group of activists who feel he is not listening to them. He is appealing to Tory voters. He is not singing their tune. But he cannot ignore the trade union activists.''

The Unison survey of its grassroots members said: "It is widely accepted that the current Clause IV does not express our values and beliefs clearly.

"However, there is widespread support for the continued principle of common or public ownership to be retained. A number of regions feel that the current Clause IV best expresses that commitment."

One key finding is that union members believe the row over Clause IV was unnecessary, divisive and potentially damaging to the party. Alan Simpson, the MP for Nottingham South and a leading member of the Defend Clause IV campaign, said: "It is consistent with the messages that we are getting all around the country."

The union is now almost certain to cast its vote against Mr Blair at the special conference. The TGWU delegation is also expected to vote against.

The outcome could now depend on the white-collar union MSF and Usdaw, the shop workers' union. Neither is carrying out a ballot, but both are expected to support Mr Blair's demands for change.

Labour leaders warned trade unions last night that there would be "no deals" and "no trade-offs" by Mr Blair to secure their support for the change to Clause IV of the party's constitution at the special conference on 29 April, after the rebuff by Unison. Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, said the modernisation process would go on, despite the setback.

His uncompromising message was reinforced by Donald Dewar, who stated: "Compromise is not on the agenda."

Clause IV debate, page 2

Leading article, page 14