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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,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 Chancellor. 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 votes. 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 Britain. 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. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk