Monday, April 01, 2002

Labour's Love Lost

Lady Thatcher is retired from public life for one week and already it starts.

The rift between New Labour's version of Third Way politics and the Labour party's base is becoming clearer every day. Take this week's declaration by the UK's largest teachers' union that it's going to go on a limited strike over working hours. The National Union of Teachers is demanding a 35 hour work week - down from the reported average of 53 hours a week. The union says that "teachers are fed up waiting for improvements," but education secretary Estelle Morris was decidedly unsympathetic, reportedly feeling "disappointed and furious." An exotic combination indeed for a member of a Labour cabinet faced with an unhappy teachers' union.

This on the heels of PM Blair's characterization of opponents of public service privatisation as "wreckers," a comment many union leaders though was aimed squarely at them. Blair not only stuck with the comment in the face of criticism, however, but went on to deny that he had apologized for it. Echoing that recent controversy, Tory shadow education secretary Damian Green attempted to reassure the teachers' unions that they had friends on the Right, saying "Teachers are not wreckers. They are hard-working professionals who are doing their best under increasingly difficult circumstances." Green reportedly faced "heckling" from the union representatives during his speech.

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