TUC Conference: Blair Urges National Summit on Hi-Tech Economy TUC CONFERENCE Technological Change Is Basic Issue of Our Time, Says Prime Minister as He Calls for Country-Wide Debate
Barrie Clement Labour Editor, The Independent (London, England)
TONY BLAIR called yesterday for a national summit between government, employees' leaders and captains of industry on the technological revolution sweeping the world economy.
In a conciliatory speech to the annual congress of the TUC, Tony Blair proposed a European-style social dialogue over the "knowledge economy", involving ministers, the Confederation of British Industry and union leaders.
The high-profile meeting next May would mark a significant departure for Mr Blair, who has shown a deep distrust of the traditional tripartite approach.
The Prime Minister told TUC delegates in Brighton that technological change was the "fundamental issue of our times" and needed the involvement of both sides of industry. The announcement came in a speech that acknowledged trade unions' attempts to modernise but warned them that "the challenge never stops".
He said: "Trade unions must be partners in change, not its enemies; they should even be champions of change."
He delivered his familiar warning about antediluvian trade unionism, but it was coupled with an acknowledgement that employees' leaders had a part to play. The address was in vivid contrast to his speech at the TUC conference months after Labour's general election victory, which many unionists described as "hectoring".
Downing Street sources said that on the train down to Brighton Mr Blair was far more relaxed than two years ago because a "more mature relationship" had developed between the Government and the unions.
But the Prime Minister acknowledged that some left-wingers were still critical of the Government. He warned them that they faced a choice between a "New Labour administration" and "some fantasy government where no hard decisions were taken and everything is put right over night".
He went on: "You run the unions. We run the Government. And we will never confuse the two again." There was no question of a return to the old days of secondary industrial action and mass pickets.
In an unscripted conclusion, he reminded TUC delegates that his administration had "its heart in the right place". He added: "This is a government that is on your side."
He said the party and the unions had become "politically liberated" from their old tensions and both had performed a better job as a consequence. "We have actually done more as a government in two years than virtually all of our predecessors. The trade union movement's standing today is higher than it has been for decades."
He reminded his audience that the Government had delivered a national minimum wage, enhanced employment rights and the "biggest- ever rise" in child benefit. …