LABOUR Party leader Ed Miliband was heckled during his speech at the Trade Union Congress (TUC) conference on Tuesday.
Miliband angered delegates as he condemned unions for taking strike action over pensions while negotiations were ongoing and also declared he would not reverse Tory-LibDem cuts.
The response to his speech from the different trade unions varied, revealing deep splits.
The PCS civil servants union condemned Miliband for ‘turning his back’ on Labour voters.
The PCS statement said: ‘In the questions and answers session after Miliband’s speech, Janice Godrich, National President of civil servants’ union, Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) asked Miliband what he would do to defend the pensions deal his party made with the unions in 2006 when they were in government.
‘She also asked Miliband if he would support public sector workers taking industrial action in the autumn to defend the deal.
‘She said she offered Miliband the “opportunity to stand up for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers whose livelihoods are under attack”.
‘To huge cheers she said his former cabinet colleague Alan Johnson had described the deal as “fair and reasonable” and the National Audit Office had recently said the changes meant public sector pensions were affordable and sustainable.
‘Miliband refused to offer his support to those trade unionists forced to take industrial action against being made to pay more pension contributions to pay for the deficit caused by the banks, and to work longer for less pension.
‘Answering PCS’s question he said the “best thing that can be done is avoid industrial action by the government being prepared to negotiate”, ignoring the fact that the government is refusing to negotiate on the key issues.’
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘Not only is Mr Miliband turning his back on our members, he’s turning his back on the union members who voted for him as leader in their thousands, and on the millions of people who rely on the public services they provide.
‘His refusal to back his natural supporters is a slap in the face and will be massively counterproductive for him, but it will not dent our determination to fight to protect pensions, jobs, pay and public services.’
The NUT also condemned his speech.
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: ‘Ed Miliband has missed the point completely.
‘Teachers do not want to go on strike. They have been left with no alternative whatsoever, when confronted with a Government that blatantly refuses to negotiate on anything other than the pension changes they wish to impose.
‘Despite there being no evidence to suggest that the Teachers’ Pension Scheme is either unsustainable or unaffordable, the Government is insisting people pay more, work longer and get less based on nothing more than their desire that teachers should.
‘The NUT alongside other teaching unions are organising a mass lobby of Parliament on October 26.
‘This is the last chance for Government to listen and failure to do so will result in industrial action.
‘The leader of the Labour Party needs to recognise this is a failure on the part of Government, not public sector workers.’
The University and College Union (UCU) chose to comment on Miliband’s comments on education, ignoring his attacks on the unions.
The UCU statement said: ‘Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, on Tuesday told the TUC Congress that he did not want education to be “warped by the for-profit motive”.
‘Miliband was speaking in a Q&A session at the central London conference before delegates backed a motion condemning the government’s attempts to divert public funding for higher education into the emerging for-profit sector.
‘The University and College Union (UCU) said the government needed to urgently heed the warning from the US, where for-profit companies are being investigated by Congress following a series of high profile scandals over mis-selling degrees and suspect recruitment practices.
‘In June, a UCU survey of 500 professors revealed that over four-fifths (85%) thought for-profit providers would offer lower quality courses than public universities, if they are given the green light to expand.
‘The recent higher education white paper will allow for-profit companies unprecedented access to a larger share of taxpayers’ money, in the form of the government–backed student loans, recreating the conditions that allowed the rapid growth of for-profit higher education in the US.’
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘We are pleased that Ed Miliband has followed Nick Clegg’s lead from last week and come out strongly against a for-profit motive in education.
‘’The recent white paper, however, appears to give a worrying green light to the types of companies that have been caught up in embarrassing scandals in higher education in the US over their recruitment practices.
‘For-profit education in America has become a public scandal, including a Senate investigation into companies such as Apollo, Kaplan and Education Management Corporation and new regulations aimed at curbing the worst abuses.
‘In the US for-profit colleges have the lowest rates of completion and the highest rates of defaulting on the loans.
‘Around 40% of students from for-profit colleges default after three years and the for-profits are responsible for around half of all defaults.
The leader of the biggest public sector union, Unison, claimed that Miliband ‘pressed some of the right buttons’.
Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison stated: ‘The Labour leader delivered a measured, serious speech to Congress today, a tone that reflects the difficult times facing our members – job and service cuts, pay freezes and the Coalition’s attack on their pensions.
‘It was Labour that renegotiated public service pensions back in 2008 to ensure that they remain fair and sustainable – I would have expected Ed Miliband to give his full backing to our fight for a decent pensions’ deal.
‘We want to negotiate – I have always said that strike action is a last resort.
‘And Ed is right to say that talks have to be meaningful – sadly the progress of the pensions’ talks has been glacial.
‘Ed’s speech hit some of the right buttons – fairness for the workforce, the right to join a union and he paid tribute to the daily, unrecognised work of trade unions.’
Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary said: ‘I have to give him credit for his courage in coming here and speaking frankly to us.
‘What comes across is that he is not ashamed of the trade union links to the Labour Party.
‘As Labour Leader he is not embarrassed by his association with trade unions and trade unionists.
‘His engagement with trade unionists on the ground will bring to the fore what needs to be done to get the economy moving and to bring fairness to our communities.
‘I thought it was a pretty good speech which covered a lot of ground with clarity and vision of what needs to be done. He knew that we would not agree with everything he said and proposes.
‘The one elephant in the room was his lack of reference in his speech to employment rights and basic freedoms enjoyed by working people.’