Union anger at strike ban

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Union leaders of all shades of opinion yesterday rounded on proposals from the Labour leadership which would ban strikes in the public sector.

David Blunkett, Labour's employment spokesman, has floated the idea of compulsory binding arbitration after private warnings from unions that a Labour Cabinet could face industrial unrest in the public services after a "honeymoon" period. While unions rejected such compulsory processes, they agreed to co-operate with his plan to consult employees' representatives and management on how to avoid stoppages.

Mr Blunkett said yesterday that it was essential that Labour looked to the future, the kind of relationship between government and unions which was required and the sort of labour market that would exist. There was no point in going back to the "factory-gate megaphones of 20 years ago". He will be speaking at a fringe meeting tomorrow at the annual Trades Union Congress meeting in Blackpool where he is expected to reveal his proposals.

The plans are thought to include an enhanced role for the conciliation service Acas and the creation of more pay review bodies such as the ones which cover nurses and teachers.

On the eve of congress John Monks, TUC general secretary, made clear his implacable opposition to the introduction of laws to enforce arbitration. He said they had been shown not to work in the past and were not the "panacea" that some politicians thought they were.

He welcomed the invitation by the Labour Party to submit TUC ideas on how industrial action may be avoided and contrasted Mr Blunkett's attitude with the Government which was apparently drawing up plans in secret.

Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said his organisation had signed arbitration agreements but declared his opposition to compulsion.

John Edmonds, leader of the GMB general union, rubbished the concept. He said it was an "enormous trap" for governments and that Tory ministers would have tried it if they thought it could work.

Tony Blair will come face to face with these views in Blackpool tomorrow. He will be dining with senior union leaders as postal workers' leaders decide whether to call more strikes.

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