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DEBATE PUT OFF IN FACE OF US TERROR

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Suzanne Simmons-Lewis, reporter ...
Suzanne Simmons-Lewis, reporter

Unions have vowed to move their campaign against the government's plans for greater private sector involvement in public services to the Labour Party conference.

The anticipated confrontation between prime minister Tony Blair and the unions at the TUC was postponed because of the terrorist onslaught on the United States. The prime minister learned of the attacks as he was about to begin his much-anticipated speech to the congress. After a few words of apology he returned to London.

The debate on a motion highly critical of the government's plans also fell after delegates agreed to close the congress early as a symbol of national unity.

But Malcolm Wing, Unison's head of local government said the unions' campaign against greater private sector involvement would not lose its momentum.

'The central feature is the high-profile campaign that comes out of our response to the motion,' said Mr Wing. 'The Labour Party conference next month will be a very important opportunity to debate the really significant issues. We will be using this opportunity to make the case against privatisation and build support for a campaign.'

He added: 'Public services are obviously going to be important over the coming months as the government's intentions become clearer.'

Around 20 unions have signed the public services motion.

TUC president and T&G general secretary Bill Morris said this and other unfinished business would now go to the General Council before being adopted as policy.

In closing congress, Mr Morris hinted he too expects the issue to dominate the Labour Party conference: 'It would be inappropriate to criticise the government at this time, but there will be another time and place to raise these issues.'

Mr Blair had intended to stick to his guns regarding the private sector, while adopting conciliatory tones at the TUC conference. In his prepared speech Mr Blair had planned to say: 'Nobody is talking about privatising the NHS or schools and nobody has said the private sector is a panacea.'

He emphasised: 'The areas we propose to have a role for the private sector are set out with crystal clarity in the NHS Plan, the education white paper and the 10-year transport plan. Should those proposals be changed or be added to, we will discuss it with you.'

When he briefly addressed the congress, he indicated his willingness to continue the debate.

Meanwhile, Mr Wing predicted more local strike action by council staff. 'Where they think that by taking strike action they can prevent services being privatised, its inevitable,' he warned.

Five hundred workers from Newcastle City Council are set to take strike action against the threat of privatisation on the eve of the Labour Party conference.

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