After a generation of retreat and decline, the trade unions are once more starting to command the public agenda and become a major force in political and social life in the UK. The bitter firefighters' dispute, following the major strikes by local government employees and railway and tube workers, is the most recent indication of this return. Another is the unbroken run of victories in union elections for left-wing candidates, including the sensational defeat of the leading Blairite in the trade union movement, Sir Ken Jackson, in the ballot for the leadership of Amicus-AEEU.
These developments suggest the unions are emerging from a long period of slumber. At stake are not only the reigning industrial relations dogmas of recent years"social partnership" and "sweetheart deals" with employersbut also the future of New Labour. The new union leaders are militant in promoting members' economic interests and also support a radical political agenda, calling for both a halt to privatization and vociferous opposition to the Blair-Bush war. A New Labour Nightmare is a mixture of hard-hitting analysis and interviews with those leading the new movement... the group the tabloids dub 'the awkward squad.'