THERE was a time when the annual meeting of Britain's Trades Union Congress was anticipated with as much anxiety by a Labour government as its own Party Conference a few weeks later. But if New Labour can be credited without reservation for anything it achieved it is probably that it has put the unions in their place in Labour's hierarchy without cutting them, and their funding, adrift.

So Gordon Brown will go down to Brighton tomorrow to address the brothers without too much to worry about. He will hear speeches about the need to maintain public sector pay levels and to get the NHS right but essentially he will be given a warm welcome because he has always given the impression of being more sympathetic to union interests than his predecessor. The conference will also have in mind that the prime minister may yet call a general election in October and the last thing the unions should do in advance of it is to suggest a new militancy by passing resolutions critical of government policies.

On Wednesday the TUC is scheduled to debate whether it should support calls for a referendum on the EU reform treaty.
Some of the most influential union leaders have already said that they do not think a referendum is necessary and Mr Brown and those who think like him will hope that the TUC does not add its name to the hundreds of thousands of Daily Telegraph readers who are said to have signed the petition for a referendum.