Britain's left-wing unions jubilant at Corbyn victory

Brighton (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Trade union activists declared themselves "thrilled" with the election of veteran campaigner Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain's main opposition Labour Party at an annual congress of unions on Sunday.

The yearly meeting of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), a gathering of unions, peace movements and international solidarity groups, was held in the coastal city of Brighton one day after the anti-austerity stalwart Corbyn stunned many in his own party by sweeping to a decisive victory.

"We are thrilled with Jeremy Corbyn's victory!" said 27-year-old David Sharkey, adding that Corbyn's triumph showed unions re-emerging as a powerful force in the Labour party they founded, after being sidelined under the more centrist "New Labour" of former leader Tony Blair.

"The trade union movement has proved during this election that it's still a very strong lobby group," said Sharkey, an advertising manager for socialist newspaper The Morning Star, which published its first Sunday edition in its 85-year history after Corbyn won.

The election of the 66-year old, backed by Britain's two biggest unions, comes as the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to introduce a bill to make it harder for trade unions to call strikes and stage pickets.

Activists, who have pledged to put up a tough fight against the proposals, welcomed Corbyn as a breath of fresh air.

"Jeremy Corbyn's victory is very good news," said Andrea Butcher of socialist and trade unionist bookshop Bookmarks, as she arranged anti-austerity pamphlets and anti-capitalist essays at the Congress library.

"It will shift the debate to the left, we will talk more about refugees, renationalisation, the NHS (National Health Service)."

Corbyn, a former union official who praised the groups' role in society in his leadership victory speech, is expected to receive a hero's welcome when due to address the Congress on Tuesday.

- Hardest yet to come -

Corbyn won the backing of several unions officially affiliated with the Labour party, as well as non-affiliated groups, some saying the anti-war campaigner could offer a stiffer opposition to the Cameron administration.

"We are very much welcoming of Jeremy Corbyn," said Nick McCarthy of the largely civil service-representing Public and Commercial Services Union, before leaving to welcome former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who shares Corbyn's support for economic stimulus over austerity.

"Only the most hard-bitten cynic wouldn't have been impressed by the way that this campaign seems to have taken off and particularly the way young people have been excited about getting involved in politics," said TUC leader Frances O'Grady.

Yet O'Grady warned of the need for Labour to regain the trust of the electorate, after the party was defeated in the May 2015 election as it struggled to shake off an image of being less reliable on the economy than the Conservatives.

As Corbyn sets his sights on leading Labour into the next election in 2020, activists indicated that the hardest battle was yet to come, not only in winning over an electorate but also those opposed to Corbyn's views within his own party.

"Now there will be a difficult battle against the Blairite bureaucracy," said Socialist Party member Mark Best.

"The only way for Jeremy Corbyn to apply his agenda will be to mobilise people and to build up the movement."