The Transport and General Workers' Union, the TUC's largest affiliate, is to table a motion highly critical of the performance of Congress House and, by implication, of Mr Willis's leadership. A campaign for a new TUC leader will draw strength from those who see Mr Willis as an electoral liability to the Labour Party.
A statement drawn up by the TGWU indicates that Mr Willis has allowed ministers to get away with 'legal and philosophical attacks' on the movement. Such a state of affairs 'must not be allowed to continue without a co- ordinated and planned response', the statement says. It calls for a new programme and campaigning style that would 'begin to lead the labour movement with a unity of purpose, giving a message of hope and determination'.
While the motion does not explicitly call upon Mr Willis to step down, his stewardship is clearly called into question by the wording of the statement submitted to Congress House yesterday. Mr Willis, 60, is not due to retire until 1997, so he would still be in the post at the next general election.
Under the traditional principle of Buggins's turn, the general council of the TUC will be called upon to appoint John Monks, the deputy general secretary, as the new leader. But external candidates, such as Brenda Dean, who recently stepped down as deputy general secretary of the print union GPMU, could make a strong showing. Another possible candidate is Jack Dromey, a national official of the TGWU, who recently tried unsuccessfuly to become the union's deputy general secretary.
Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, has avoided personal criticism of Mr Willis, but when asked recently what he thought of the TUC general secretary's leadership qualities, he would only say: 'We have to live with the leader we've got.'
Mr Willis has long been the subject of a whispering campaign by virtually every TUC union general secretary, but none has made any move in public so far. Mr Willis might feel aggrieved at becoming one of the scapegoats for the Labour Party's defeat, having been sidelined during the election campaign.
The motion, however, concentrates on the specific needs of the TUC. It is significant, not only because the TGWU is the biggest union, but because Mr Willis is a member and former head of its research department.
The jocular and likeable Mr Willis is not perceived as the right person to lead the TUC through a particularly difficult period.
It faces a considerable challenge this autumn when the Government introduces its Bill giving workers the right to join the union of their choice.
The law will undermine one of the central roles of Congress House which, under its so-called 'Bridlington rules', adjudicates between unions involved in disputes over members.
The creation of 'super unions' through mergers also calls into question the need for a central union organisation.
The union motion calls for the TUC to 'refocus' on specific objectives: a recruitment campaign that would highlight the positive aspects of trade unionism; a strategy to co-ordinate collective bargaining to pursue 'non-pay' objectives such as training, and a campaign against unemployment.Reuse content