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Letter from London
Labor in Government
Is Better, But ...

Labour Party

By Jeff Apter
Special to the UE News

Britain’s trade union movement has urged this nation’s Labour Party government not to copy the American model of deregulated Labour markets.

Speaking just before the annual convention of the Trades Union Congress, Britain’s union federation, General Secretary John Monks argued that "the new battle for Britain is about which route we will follow — the European social dialogue route or the U.S. hire-and-fire route."

Monks hailed the American unions’ organizing campaigns but said, "Although our colleagues in the United States are waging a terrific fight for survival and growth, they and we know that they suffer from the absence of any real significant public policy support as might be provided by a social democratic government."

Meeting in Brighton in the south of England at the same time that UE held its 64th annual convention in Burlington, the nearly 1,000 TUC delegates were happy that they were able to gather in a more optimistic atmosphere than in the past. It was the third time that the convention was held since the Labour Party won a landslide parliamentary victory over the Conservative Party in May 1997.

Most trade unionists acknowledge that a pro-labor administration is better than an anti-union one. The Conservative Party, lead by free-market Mrs. Thatcher and her successor John Major, ruled the roost for 18 years. The balance sheet of those years was mass privatization, damaged health and social services, mass unemployment and anti-union legislation. So things could only get better when the Labour Party, which, unlike the U.S. Labor Party, next year celebrates its centenary, was returned to power for the first time since 1979.


Unemployment is down and a lift has been given to health care and social services. But many trade unionists are disappointed that many of the pro-employer labor laws have not been — and are unlikely to be — repealed. There is agreement in the union movement that the fight should continue to make sure the anti-union Conservative Party can never govern again. But there is also a growing trend which says "Labour yes, any day! But we must keep an eye on what they do when they are in power. The unions should back the Labour Party but keep their independence of decision-making."

As well as debating the whole range of questions affecting working people, including higher benefits and defending the welfare state, low pay, the minimum wage, working hours and jobs, the convention also discussed recommendations from the TUC proposing a new structure for the trade union movement in the 21st century.


One reflection of the new union mood since the defeat of the Conservatives was the heartening news that TUC membership last year increased by 108,000 to reach 6.74 million — the first increase since 1979 when TUC membership reached 12 million. Although much of the increase was due to new affiliations, especially from a major teachers’ union, in general, membership of the 77 TUC-affiliated unions stabilized.

Thirty-four unions increased their memberships while 32 had losses. Among the smaller unions, the biggest percentage gain was notched by the professional soccer players’, which saw an increase of 36 percent. Unison, the public services and health union remains by far the biggest union with 1.27 million members, followed by the Transport and General Workers with 881,000, the electrical and engineering union (AEEU) with 717,000 and the general and electrical union (GMB) with 712,000.

UE News - 10/99

Home -> UE News -> 1999 Archives -> Article

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