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Kevin Maguire


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Union diary

Friendly fire

Bill Morris says farewell and Brown-noses his way into New Labour's good books, writes Kevin Maguire

Thursday July 3, 2003

· Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are suspected of pulling strings after Sir Bill Morris gave a valedictory speech that must have raised at least two cheers in Downing Street. The outgoing leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, who may yet be found a new role in public life by the government, tied himself up in knots with a hokey-pokey performance that bombed. Having put the boot into the cabinet for allegedly planning the privatisation of foundation hospitals, barely 24 hours later it was the awkward squad (and thus his successor Tony Woodley) that felt the full force. Sir Bill attacked the pesky leftwingers for abusing the government and warned they could let the Tories back in! Meanwhile, a section accusing Peter Hain of "weasel words" for suggesting a new top tax rate sounded like a classic Treasury briefing. Hain, the leader of the Commons, may not have gone far enough to please the left, but he is the only cabinet minister putting his head on the Brown block by talking about higher taxes.

· At Brighton, power has visibly drained from Blair's trade union backers to Woodley. Geoffrey Goodman, a veteran observer of the industrial scene, said Woodley reminded him of Jack Jones, which is pretty much as good as it gets. Jones tipped up at one of Woodley's victory parties in central London and couldn't risk a dig at Sir Bill, declaring it was time to "reclaim the union". However, many delegates suspect Woodley of tacitly backing sometime-Blairite Jack Dromey as his deputy. By failing to back Graham Stevenson, a member of his own campaign team, Woodley has - intentionally or otherwise - sent out a "vote Dromey" message.

· When he is not fighting with New Labour, Bob Crow is battling against extreme rightwingers infiltrating the RMT rail union. Racist train driver Jay Lee, a Virgin employee fighting expulsion by Aslef, joined the union two weeks ago. Now the RMT is holding an investigation to find out how Lee, a British National party council candidate, obtained his membership card. An employment tribunal ruled Lee was wrongly excluded and if Aslef fails in its appeal, he will receive upwards of £5,700 compensation. Should RMT go down the same track, he could end up with double bubble. Patrick Harrington, a National Front organiser in the 1980s, will not be laughing all the way the bank. He joined the RMT under a false name and was swiftly shown the door when he was unmasked.

Addition: Mr Harrington states that he joined the RMT using his married name. He denies deceiving the union and will be challenging the expulsion.

· Derek Simpson, the poet laureate of the awkward squad, has coined a new phrase for the millions of low-paid, dead end, boring "McJobs" in the service sector. The phrase is "cherry wob jobs" and the Amicus chief has explained to puzzled observers that a wob is a cherry stone. That's all clear, then. Simpson was also much taken with an anagram of Amicus, renaming the faction-ridden union "Scumia". But not as taken as he was with his own anagram: "I Sacum".

· Preliminary figures from 58 TUC unions show 35 unions increasing membership last year, 20 suffering a fall and three remaining magically unchanged. Unison was up 16,300 to 1,289,000, Amicus down 18,847 to 1,080,046, the T&G dipping 13,278 to 835,351 and the GMB putting on 14,244 to 703,970. Overall membership remained just under seven million. Missing is the new figure for the GPMU printers, in merger talks with the T&G and Amicus. Put at 200,000 last year, one official claimed membership has shrunk rapidly after the decision to stop counting 60,000 retired members.

· The TUC's decision to refuse Nestlé a stall at September's annual Congress in Brighton is a small victory for the anti-baby milk brigade. In recent years the Swiss conglomerate, accused of putting lives at risk in the developing world by pushing bottles instead of breasts, has enjoyed turning up and annoying its critics. However, the corporation is having more success within the T&G. The union voted two years ago to sell Fairtrade tea and coffee in vending machines in offices across Britain. But only one region, the south-west, has complied. Senior officers argue they should stick to drinks made by T&G organised plants, particularly Nestlé's Nescafe. Whatever happened to internationalism?

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