AHEAD of today’s TUC Congress, the leaders of two of the country’s biggest unions warned that their members’ anger over cuts in their jobs, living standards and pensions is driving the calls for strike action.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the government’s plans to cut public sector workers’ jobs by ‘half a million’ has ‘created a wave of anger’.
Prentis said: ‘There have been strikes all year, they’re getting bigger. We don’t want this strike action, we do want to negotiate, we do want a change in the way the government is dealing with the deficit.’
But he warned: ‘On top of the worries about jobs, about the NHS being privatised, we’ve now got a massive issue around public service pensions.’
He said millions of workers face paying 50 per cent more for their pensions, working longer and getting less.
‘It will be that issue that brings the trade unions and public service workers together. And that could cause massive pensions strikes.’
He added that workers won’t be able to afford to pay more contributions on top of a pay freeze and inflation going up.
He stressed: ‘Not one penny of the increase goes into the pension scheme, it goes straight into the Treasury to pay off the deficit.’
He concluded that ‘industrial action is the last resort for our members. . . if they are to be treated in this way, I’ve no doubt whatsoever they will go for industrial action.’
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said yesterday that the mood of Unite’s 1.5 million members is ‘very, very angry’.
He told the Andrew Marr Show: ‘Our members throughout the public service sector are infuriated by the fact that the government have launched this ideological attack on their work, their pensions, their jobs, but also within the private sector itself.
‘The users of public services are angry that everything that has held our nations together for the past 65 years is under threat, and that’s why we have to stand up and be counted.’
He said that the TUC Congress is about ‘trying to build a campaign of resistance, so that the government will take stock and perhaps take a step back’.
Asked, ‘What kind of action follows this autumn, this winter?’ McCluskey replied: ‘Well you can only build a campaign of protest.’
Pressed to say, ‘What kind of action?’ he added: ‘Well I think the actions that will be taken will be widespread, and I don’t think we can rule anything out.’
He said this would include: ‘Direct action, including of course industrial action because that’s precisely what our members want.
‘They expect their leaders to give that type of leadership and to stand shoulder to shoulder with them when their terms of conditions are being attacked.’
He was asked, ‘Do you think that people will be supporting strikes and disruption?’
McCluskey replied: ‘I think we need. . . I think we need to kind of explode some of the myths.’
He was asked was he ‘disappointed’ by Labour leader Ed Miliband’s comments about the earlier strikes and demonstrations.
The Unite leader said: ‘Oh without a shadow of a doubt. I think he made a fundamental error by attacking the strikes on 30th June. But you know he’s learning in his job . . If he’s going to get Labour back into power, then Labour needs to be on the side of ordinary working people.’