Sterling's strength will dominate everything at Glasgow this week

'Unions want more than a hint from Gordon Brown that pensions will again be linked to earnings'

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Trade union leaders and activists meeting in Glasgow today are very aware that this is likely to be the last TUC Conference before the next election. It is the time for writing manifestos and the Trade Union movement has a list of ideas which we will be urging on the Labour government.

Trade union leaders and activists meeting in Glasgow today are very aware that this is likely to be the last TUC Conference before the next election. It is the time for writing manifestos and the Trade Union movement has a list of ideas which we will be urging on the Labour government.

Unemployment is going down and the Government gets a good deal of credit for that achievement. The rub is that economic activity in Britain is very unbalanced. Job security is under threat, not from unscrupulous employers, but from the value of Sterling. Some of the biggest names in British Industry have been under threat. Rover was only saved at the 11th hour. Chorus - formerly British Steel - has made thousands of jobs redundant and Ford is due to stop car production in Dagenham. The clothing industry is fast becoming a desert and shipbuilding yards are desperate for the next orders.

The strong pound will figure in debate after debate in Glasgow. In July and August alone over 10, 000 jobs disappeared. The latest threat is from the Japanese electronics, giant Sony. With veiled threats about disinvestment unless the Government sorts out its policy on the European single currency. The debates on Tuesday in Glasgow about manufacturing industry and the Euro will be the centrepiece of the week and will spearhead the TUC's lobbying of the Government.

I believe that the Government should prepare much more actively for entry into the single currency and I will be making that point at the Congress. But even those Trade Unionists who have reservations about the Euro know that we cannot continue with a high-value pound propped up by high interest rates. Whatever decisions are made about the Euro the Trade Union movement unites in its demand for Government action to bring down the value of Sterling.

The most frustrating aspect of the Euro debate at the TUC is the fact that there is so little debate elsewhere. The clearest message from opinion polls is that most people in Britain recognise that they know too little about the issues. The debate can only be led by the Government. Gordon Brown's five economic tests are sensible but the Government should be leading a debate about how these tests can be met rather than simply hoping that the Euro issue will go away until after the next election. Many trade unionists want an end to the shilly shallying and want to hear more authoritative speeches from the Government.

Mr Brown will be addressing the TUC, and I guess that he will also be lobbied very strongly on the level of the minimum wage. For many Trade Unionists the introduction of the National Minimum Wage was the welcomed result of a generation of campaigning. But the applause was muted because the rate was set so low and because for some extraordinary reason the Government also set a lower rate of protection for young people.

I suppose that a cautious approach could be justified by the fear that some of the hysterical protection predictions might come true. Now we know that the introduction was a success and that employment continued to rise during the period.

The Trade Union movement waits expectantly. We intend to fight for a higher level of minimum wage and for parity for all age groups. In a world where there are so many threats to living standards we must not allow people who live on the lowest wages to slip back into poverty. £3.70 is out of date and the minimum should be moved as quickly as possible and as close as possible to £5 an hour.

The third priority for the week is likely to be pensions. The Government has spent a great deal of money improving the plight of the poorest pensioners. But the use of means tested benefit is never popular with the Trade Union movement. We want to see the value of the basic state pension protected so that it becomes a platform on which occupational pensions and stakeholder pensions can be built. The Labour government will get little credit for its pensions work until it eradicates the memory of the seventy-five pence a week pensions increase.

Trade Unionists are looking for more than a hint from Mr Brown that the basic state pension will once again be linked, not to prices, but to earnings. All the signs are that the Government will take a different approach and will pledge large increases in the pension without conceding the principle of the earnings link. Trade Unionists have to be pragmatists and no doubt many colleagues will accept that approach but I cannot see how a Labour government can permit a gradual erosion in the relative value of the basis state pension. That aspect of universal benefit has many supporters across the country and the Labour government will do itself a great deal of electoral harm unless it addresses the issues squarely.

The author is general secretary of the GMB union

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