Unions fall into line over work reforms

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The Independent Online
DESPITE protests from some senior left-wingers, Tony Blair was yesterday winning over the union movement to his package of employment reforms.

By last night, three union barons had lined up in favour of the predicted contents of the "fairness at work" White Paper due to be published this Thursday, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. At least one general secretary still harboured fundamental reservations. While welcoming improvements to the rights of individual workers, Bill Morris, leader of the left-wing Transport and General Workers Union, declared his intention to continue a campaign against a critical part of the White Paper.

In particular, he will continue to stand out against the Prime Minister's insistence that 40 per cent of any workforce must support union recognition before it is granted, rather than just a simple majority of those voting.

However, the political bandwagon in favour of the package was started by Ken Jackson, right-wing leader of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, who declared his unequivocal acceptance of the proposals in the Independent on Sunday, declaring that it was a triumph of "social partnership" between government, unions and employers.

Yesterday, Roger Lyons, centre-left general secretary of the MSF manufacturing union, said that those who opposed the White Paper were overlooking the civil-rights issues it addressed and that the "overwhelming balance" of the proposals were positive. He welcomed a compromise in which the 40 per cent formula would be reviewed. And Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the left-wing RMT rail union, said that while he was not "wildly enthusiastic" about the 40 per cent proportion, the package of reforms as a whole"will take us forward".

Mr Jackson's backing for the plans will almost certainly come under fire at a meeting of the Trades Union Congress executive on Wednesday. Together with the support of Mr Lyons and Mr Knapp, however, it is almost certain to ensure at least a grudging acceptance of the proposals.

Outright opposition is likely to be voiced tomorrow by delegates to a key national political meeting of Unison, which is about to become Labour's largest union affiliate.