Chancellor to address TUC
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown faces a rough ride at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference in Brighton today as he seeks to improve Labour’s battered relationship with its chief financial backers.
The conference began yesterday but already unions have barked back at the Government on everything from the dire state of UK manufacturing, foundation hospitals, top-up university fees, to Britain’s long hours and poor pay culture.
Unions, undoubtedly, want to see Labour in power for an historic third term but many are furious at the Blair administration’s apparent unwillingness to improve workers’ rights and conditions. They have lambasted Labour for eroding rights and giving in to business demands.
Mr Brown is likely to highlight Labour’s successful policies on the minimum wage, job creation, tax credits and public services spending. But delegates will especially want to hear the Chancellor’s attitude to top-up fees and foundation hospitals, policies Mr Brown is thought to oppose in principle.
Strong criticism will come from Amicus, which has attacked Mr Brown for opposing improvements in equal employment rights.
Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Amicus, said: “The adherence of the Treasury to the American model for the labour market will lead Britain into a cul-de-sac of inequality.”
He added: “I don’t think there is any difference in the philosophy of flexibility between Blair and Brown. The reality is I don’t believe that the Government, including Mr Brown, has focused reasonably on manufacturing.”
Yesterday, the TUC unanimously backed a call for the right to hold secondary industrial action.
Close allay of the Blair government, Mr Monks, who will soon stand down as head of the TUC, urged delegates to remind themselves of Labour’s successes: “This is an imperfect but a decent government. At the moment it is in the need of help and the TUC should usually aim to be a source of help more than awkwardness.
“Awkward for sure, but supportive too, and always looking for positive engagement. Not, by the way, out of blind loyalty to Labour but because workers and unions do better under Labour.”
On Tuesday, the TUC will hold a manufacturing debate including a panel session on productivity and skills with Patricia Hewitt, CBI head Digby Jones and Brendan Barber. Gordon Brown is pencilled in to speak on the economy at three o’clock. He is also expected to speak on education and skills. The PM is not expected to speak to Congress but will address a private dinner tonight.