NEW LABOUR trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt went down like a lead balloon on the first day of the TUC conference in Brighton. Her whole speech was listened to in complete silence, even when she went out of her way to try to persuade delegates that she was 'on their side'. She got just a few seconds of polite applause at the end. There were sniggers from some delegates when she referred to 'minor differences' with the trade unions.
There were disbelieving shakes of the head when she praised Ford and BAe Systems as models of 'partnership'.
Most of her speech was pro-business. 'It seemed like she had the wrong conference. She sounded like she was addressing the CBI,' said a UNIFI delegate. 'She's on another planet from us,' said Alice Kenny from the GMB after listening to the speech. 'She offered us nothing. She patronised us by telling us she wanted to thank the trade union movement, but she praised business efficiency and talked of a productivity drive. In other words, we do more work for less pay.'
Delegate after delegate attacked the government's record. Des Farrow from the GMB said, 'We're losing manufacturing jobs faster under Labour than under the Tories.
'Between 1992 and 1997 some 2,500 jobs were lost every month. Since 1997 under Labour we have lost up to 8,000 a month, and in the last year 12,000 a month. Phil Boston from the RMT said, 'The best way Patricia Hewitt and the Labour Party can say a big thank you to the trade union movement is by repealing the anti trade union laws.'
Andy Reid from ASLEF said, 'Even though we rid ourselves of the Tory government, the policies have carried on. 'Who would have thought workers would be in a position, with a Labour government in power, where they can be sacked for joining a union and the government boasts of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe?'
A motion which included the call for 'repeal of the trade union laws' was unanimously carried.
'IT IS despicable that we are having to fight privatisation under a Labour government. In the Post Office we're losing thousands of jobs, but nothing is being done to address underinvestment. The unions must put their words against privatisation into action. We have to show our disgust at New Labour's privatisation, and there's no better time to do so than in Brighton outside Labour's conference on 30 September.'
CHRIS TAPPER, CWU subdivisional rep, South West and South Wales
'IN EDINBURGH we're in the forefront of the drive to privatisation. Our branch is writing to union headquarters to demand what action they are going to take to defend our members' jobs. We're also demanding that our conference policy, moved last year by my branch, is acted on. It says if Labour privatises any part of the Post Office then the CWU will immediately withdraw all support from Labour, both moral and financial.'
DEREK DURKIN, CWU, Edinburgh, and Scottish Socialist Party
'WE ARE totally opposed to privatisation, and now is the time to speak out and act, especially against the privatisation of essential services. In London we are totally opposed to the privatisation (PPP) of the tube, and we are totally opposed to privatisation of any part of the fire service. We're calling on the TUC to call a national demonstration against PFI.'
TERRY RICHARDSON, FBU, London
Anger at top
'WE SPENT 20 years fighting Margaret Thatcher and the Tories over privatisation. Now we've got an increase in the momentum to increase the private sector in public services. What New Labour is doing is legitimising the attacks on the public sector and workers that we resisted for 20 years.'
KEITH SONNETT, UNISON deputy general secretary
'WE'RE A union whose patience with New Labour has almost run out. Our prime minister is lecturing people in Europe, Argentina and Brazil about more flexibility, restricting rights for workers and the whole neo-liberal agenda. That is something to be ashamed of, not proud of. The FBU is at breaking point.'
ANDY GILCHRIST, FBU general secretary