Monks Shrugs off Blair 'Tiff'
Byline: John Duckers
TUC general secretary John Monks has played down his recent tiff with Tony Blair over workers' rights as 'part of the banter of politics'.
'I dished it out so I don't complain when I get it dished back,' said Mr Monks in response to criticism from the Prime Minister who accused him of being out of touch with the modern world. Mr Monks had sparked the row by calling Mr Blair 'bloody stupid' for forging alliances with right-wing European Union leaders such as Italy's Silvio Berlusconi to block the extension of EU workers' rights.
But since then he has taken a more conciliatory approach, saying he was simply warning the Government it was in danger of losing its traditional support base if it did not take a step backwards, rather than making any threats.
'I am not out of touch - we are strong supporters of more flexible labour markets, more choice and more skills but also in some necesary protection for workers from time to time. The two are not contradictions,' Mr Monks said.
'We don't see flexibility as being employer-dictated, it cuts both ways for workers as well. That is the modern employment agenda.'
Having said that, tensions between the Government and unions remain over the treatment of staff who face having their jobs transferred to the public sector under the its controversial PFI private finance programme.
'Workers certainly don't want it if they face the prospect of losing their pensions and a week's holiday, as has been some of the experience in recent years,' Mr Monks said.
'I am reasonably pragmatic in that if it can be demonstrated that the private sector can do a better job than the public sector in some areas, then that's one thing. But an ideological preference - which I don't think the Government has but some people sometimes suggest it has - that is another thing.'
Even though the first few months of 2002 have been marked by train, postal and teacher strikes, Mr Monks dismisses any parallels with the notorious 'Winter of Discontent' of 1979 when a wave of industrial unrest brought down the Labour government of the day. …