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[casi] Unions to challenge Blair on Iraq war,,2-378500,00.html
The Times (London)
August 10, 2002
Unions to challenge Blair on Iraq war
By Tom Baldwin and Roland Watson

TONY Blair faces international humiliation at the
hands of his own party next month amid signs that
Labour’s annual conference will vote against British
involvement in a military attack on Iraq.

The Times has learnt that trade unions and Labour
activists are preparing emergency resolutions for the
Blackpool conference calling on the Government to
oppose any US-led war against Saddam Hussein.
Labour’s high command is understood to accept that in
the current climate such a motion would be passed,
handing the Iraqi dictator a devastating propaganda
bonus and testing the Prime Minister’s political
authority to its limit.

Mr Blair has so far sought to sidestep any public
display of dissent on the issue by insisting that no
decision on any military operation had been taken. The
message was underlined by Downing Street yesterday as
it once again rejected calls from senior Labour MPs
for a recall of Parliament.

The Labour leadership may also seek to block the
conference from debating the motion on the ground that
it is not “contemporary”. The tactic has been
successfully used to avoid controversial issues in
previous years with the support of the unions, which
dominate the conference arrangements committee.
However, the Trade Union Congress annual conference,
also being held in Blackpool next month before that of
the Labour Party, is expected to stage its own debate
on Iraq.

While no motions have been tabled on the issue, an
amendment to existing resolutions about peace and
security policy or an emergency debate is now seen as
a “racing certainty”, with the TGWU set to “attack US
plans for a mssile defence shield and calling on the
Government to withold British support for the scheme".

It is believed that the four biggest unions have
already held discussions on which resolutions they
will table, including one on Iraq. In an early signal
of the unions’ hostility towards any military action,
nine general secretaries last week signed a letter
claiming there was no evidence that Saddam had
acquired weapons of mass destruction or was a threat
to the US. The letter was drawn up by Bill Morris, the
general secretary of the Transport and General
Workers’ Union and an ally of Gordon Brown, the
It added: “We believe we are representative of public
opinion in Britain and internationally in rejecting
George W Bush’s push for military action against Iraq.
Such a war would be outside international law and
bring further instability to the entire region.”

Although Mr Blair can choose to ignore party
conference resolutions, he knows that such a decision
would cause lasting damage to the Government’s
increasingly tense relationship with the unions and
party activists. A number of unions have cut funding
to the party in protest at the Government’s failure to
listen to their policy demands.

Charles Clarke, the Labour chairman, has been
attempting to rebuild party membership — now at its
lowest level since Mr Blair became leader — and the
morale of activists by promising more tolerance of
debate and dissent. He has pledged that the party will
not stagemanage this year’s conference or do
last-minute deals with unions to stave off damaging

Labour already faces difficult debates on workers’
rights, public sector reforms, pensions and asylum
policy. Mr Blair has based his foreign policy on
building a close relationship with successive US
presidents, including Mr Bush. His international
credentials will be flaunted at this year’s conference
when Bill Clinton arrives to deliver a guest of honour
speech. Downing Street fears that any vote against war
with Iraq would cause lasting damage to his position
on the world stage. Mr Blair is said to be frustrated
that, despite his friendship with Mr Bush, he has not
been given a clear idea of what the US plans for Iraq,
leaving him exposed to hostile public opinion in

A handful of Labour MPs have criticised US policy
towards Iraq for many years, but opposition to fresh
military action is thought to include a majority of
Labour backbenchers and a number of ministers. There
have been persistent rumours that Clare Short, the
International Development Secretary, could quit over
the issue.

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