Unions draw up secret plan to take on Blair

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The Independent Online
Trade-union leaders are preparing to confront Tony Blair at Labour's annual conference, after a clandestine meeting of six of the biggest unions agreed a united front against proposed party reforms.

The general secretaries, whose unions contributed most of Labour's election expenses, met at a London hotel on Tuesday. One of those present said they had "drawn a line on the sand" over Mr Blair's plans to distance Labour from union benefactors. They have been excluded from Downing Street since the election, and do not expect to be asked in to discuss the matter.

This makes a row at the autumn conference between old and new Labour unavoidable unless the leadership compromises on key points. Party figures meet today to draft a final document to go before the Labour national executive on Wednesday.

The Independent has been told the secret union session involved Rodney Bickerstaffe of the Unison public-service union, John Edmonds of the GMB general union, Roger Lyons of MSF, Ken Jackson of the engineering union, Jimmy Knapp of the RMT transport union and Tony Dubbins of the the GPMU print union.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, was not present but has attended previous meetings of the secret grouping, which was formed in February after the Labour Party national executive (NEC) released its "Party into Power" consultative document proposing fundamental reforms.

The general secretaries, and colleagues known to sympathise with them, lead unions holding 45 per cent of the vote at the party conference, and represent the full range of opinions in the union movement. Even the Thatcher government was rarely able to produce such unanimity between right and left.

Opposition has also come from constituency organisations. Around a third of them have put forward resolutions to the annual conferences calling for the whole project to be delayed. Union leaders agreed on Tuesday that their "bottom line" in any future dealings with the Labour leadership should be no diminution of union input into the NEC or into the new policy forums.