Abrasive Blair tells unions: modernise or die

Barrie Clement
Tuesday 09 September 1997 23:02 BST

Tony Blair yesterday warned trade unionists to modernise or die, in one of the most abrasive speeches ever delivered to the Trades Union Congress by a Labour politician.

The Prime Minister, who received a respectful rather than a rapturous one-minute standing ovation, was uncompromising. He told delegates in Brighton: "We will not go back to the days of industrial warfare, strikes without ballots, mass and flying pickets and secondary action and all the rest. You don't want it and I won't let it happen."

While he managed to combine toughness with geniality, his fundamental message was that the trade-union movement needed to adjust to the new flexible world of work and that he would be "watching very carefully" to see how the culture of modern trade unionism developed. Some trade unionists needed to emerge into the "real world", a reference to John Edmonds, the GMB leader, who had said he "shivered a little" when he heard Mr Blair's "Tory phrases" about flexible employment.

Mr Blair, who was making the first prime ministerial speech to the TUC for two decades, said that "it may make some shiver, but I tell you, in the end it is warmer in the real world".

Dr George Carey became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to address the TUC, expressing his view that employers had a "moral responsibility" to recognise the chosen representatives of their employees. His comments were taken as an endorsement of the union recognition legislation planned by the Government, but opposed by many employers. Dr Carey was accused of "hypocrisy" by Roger Lyons, general secretary of the MSF union, who pointed out that the Church of England refused to afford full recognition to his union.

On Monday, the TUC unanimously backed a resolution calling for laws which allowed virtually unfettered supportive industrial action and reinstate- ment of workers dismissed for taking part in lawful strikes.

However, Mr Blair reminded his audience that the Government is to introduce legislation for a national minimum wage, full rights for part-time workers and the right of representation for unions where most employees want it. There were, he said, two qualifications - that as much as possible should be agreed with employers and there should be "genuine dialogue" to resolve potential problems.

"The old ways - resolution- itis, the committee rooms, the fixing, the small groups trying to run the show - that's not the future."

John Monks, the TUC general secretary, acknowledged that Mr Blair had delivered "some hard messages". Afterwards Mr Blair had dinner with members of the TUC general council.

Carey row, page 4

Leading article, page 15

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