Massive strikes looming over UK cuts

Union
delegates have backed joint industrial action if “attacks” on jobs,
pensions and public services go ahead.

The
TUC’s annual gathering backed a motion which included calls to build “a
broad solidarity alliance of unions and communities under threat”.

TUC
chief Brendan Barber warned that big cuts would make Britain a “dark,
brutish and more frightening place”.

The
PM’s spokesman said they wanted “partnership” with the unions to
tackle the deficit.

The
opening of the TUC’s 142nd congress – the first under a non-Labour government
since 1996 – comes amid concern among unions about the speed and scope of the
coalition’s programme to reduce the $239 billion deficit.

Most
Whitehall departments have been ordered to plan for savings of between 25 per
cent and 40 per cent ahead of the comprehensive spending review of 20 October.

Delegates
debated a motion calling for the TUC’s general council 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”.

It
could lead to different unions calling strikes on the same days if the cuts are
not scaled back, although trade union laws and union leaders’ desire to build a
wide coalition against the cuts made a “winter of discontent”
unlikely.

The
motion rejected the idea that cuts were necessary to pay for the deficit and
said they were a “savage and opportunistic attack on public services”
which “goes far further than even the dark days of Thatcher”.

TUC
general secretary Mr Barber told delegates: “These are not temporary cuts,
but a permanent rollback of public services and the welfare state. Not so much
an economic necessity as a political project driven by an ideological clamour
for a minimal state.

“What
they take apart now could take generations to rebuild. Decent public services
are the glue that holds a civilised society together and we diminish them at
our peril. Cut services, put jobs in peril and increase inequality, that’s the
way to make Britain a darker, brutish, more frightening place.”

No
dates had been named for industrial action – but the motion meant unions were
“standing ready” to do so if necessary, although there was no detail
of what form it could take. The first co-ordinated action was not likely to
take place until February or March 2011.

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