Unions threaten campaign of resistance as TUC conference beginsUnited Kingdom
Christopher Hope, Whitehall Editor
Unions are threatening coordinated strikes, civil disobedience and a “campaign of resistance not seen for decades” as they seek to increase the pressure on the Government over public sector cuts.
One leader warned that co-ordinated industrial action between unions was now “inevitable” while another suggested a campaign of “civil disobedience”.
Delegates to today's annual meeting of the Trades Union Congress will be asked to support joint union industrial action as well as other forms of protest.
They will be asked to vote on a motion urging the TUC to “support and co-ordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action, nationally and locally, in opposition to attacks on jobs, pensions, pay or public services”.
The motion, titled “Defending public services”, is signed by most of the country’s biggest unions including Unison, Unite, GMB, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, the Fire Brigades’ Union and the NASUWT.
A national demonstration is being planned for next March which could attract hundreds of thousands of people in the biggest show of public anger in a generation.
Ahead of the meeting this morning, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber admitted talks over the cuts will cause tensions.
"Of course, with all the impact of the cuts on public service workers, we could see some difficult disputes arise, because if you see major threats to people's pay, living standards and jobs, and perhaps to their pensions, all these issues could give rise to difficult disputes in some areas," he told the BBC.
Mark Serwotka, the PCS’s general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union described industrial action as “inevitable”.
The public should prepare for “a campaign of resistance the like of which we have not seen in this country for decades”.
He said that unless unions worked together to fight back the future was “bleak”.
Mr Serwotka said the cuts will be on a totally different scale after next month’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
He said: “We ain’t seen nothing yet. People are very worried and demoralised and are just waiting for things to get worse.
“While industrial action may be necessary, it is clear the most effective opposition would be the biggest popular movement we have seen for many years.”
Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, suggested a campaign of “civil disobedience” was needed to fight spending cuts.
“Maybe we need Batman climbing up 10 Downing Street, Spider-Man on Buckingham Palace as part of peaceful demonstrations of civil disobedience.
“This is an opportunity for the entire trade union movement to come together and mobilise support.
“Unions should also link up together because we are confronting the same enemy otherwise they will be picked off one at a time.”
Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of Unite, vowed to “reach out beyond the trade union movement” to build a coalition to fight the cuts.
He said: “The stark reality is that when public sector workers lose their jobs and services are cut, our children will learn less, people’s health could suffer and our streets will become more dangerous.”
Research by the GMB showed that 150,000 public sector jobs have already been axed or are at risk of being lost because of spending cuts over the past few months.
Councils, health authorities, police forces, Whitehall departments and other public sector bodies have all cut jobs after having their budgets slashed.
The cuts have been made in the months leading up to the Comprehensive Spending Review on October 20.
The study by the GMB union showed 150,000 jobs were lost or are in the pipeline to be go in more than 150 public bodies, ranging from local authorities and hospitals to police authorities and the fire service.
However, Francis Maude, the cabinet office minister, said the Government was doing its utmost to avoid a confrontation with the unions.
Mr Maude told Today: "I want there to be a genuine partnership with the trade unions. They have an absolutely legitimate stake in what the Government is going to do and we will listen very carefully to what they say and they arguments they make. There is no question about that.
"We are not going back to the days where there was a complete stand-off between the trade unions and the Government. Those days are gone."
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