PRIME Minister Gordon Brown laid down the gauntlet at the weekend to this week’s TUC Congress, being held in Liverpool.
Downing Street has released excerpts of Brown’s speech to the Congress tomorrow, the essence of which is – if the trade unions won’t accept his cuts policy, then they will be faced with the return of the Tories and even bigger cuts.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON – Britain’s biggest public sector trade union – responded to Brown’s provocation by remarking at a press conference yesterday: ‘In the 1920s, social unrest led to a general strike.
‘In the 1970s, cuts led to civil unrest.
‘If you get inner-city life collapse and you don’t maintain public services, you do get a threat to social cohesion.’
At an eve of Congress press conference, the TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber also warned against public spending cuts.
He told reporters in Liverpool: ‘We warn today that public spending cuts will provoke a double-quick, double-dip recession.
‘Unemployment could well exceed four million and it would take many years before there is any chance of returning to anything like full employment.
‘That would scar for life a whole generation of young people.’
Attacking statements by Tory leader Cameron and Shadow Chancellor Osborne, he warned: ‘Spending cuts will hit both public and private sectors.’
He added: ‘A double-dip recession would not just be deeper, also longer.
‘Prolonged mass unemployment would not just do economic damage, but have terrible social effects.
‘I don’t think that Britain is broken, but this will be one way to break it.
‘Last time we suffered slash and burn economics, we had riots in the streets here in Liverpool.
‘I make no prediction that this will happen again, but I do know that prolonged mass unemployment will have terrible effects on social cohesion, family break-up and the nation’s health.’
The TUC leader confirmed that he had been having private talks with Tory leader David Cameron and Liberal leader Nick Clegg.
Meanwhile, Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, told Sky TV he was firmly behind Brown.
Simpson responded to a reporter who said to him, ‘According to opinion polls the Tories are on course to win the election and Gordon Brown certainly seems to think that’s a problem. “Don’t risk your members’ jobs or the nation’s future with the Tories,” he’s going to say to you on Tuesday next.’
‘Well, he’s right,’ Simpson replied.
Asked, ‘Would you like to see a change of Labour leader before the next election?’ Simpson replied:
‘Absolutely not. There’s only one person to lead the Labour Party, that’s Gordon Brown.’
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka warned at a civil service union press conference in Liverpool that all the reports and speculation in the media about ‘the public/private divide’ were ‘preparing the ground for a massive onslaught on the public sector’.
He added: ‘After the election, all parties are going to make massive cuts.
‘We are calling for talks about the unions seriously working together and taking joint industrial action.’
He was asked by reporters, if the government moved to cut pay and cut more jobs, would the PCS take industrial action?
Serwotka replied: ‘There should be industrial action as a last resort, but we make it clear that we want to have a joint campaign first.’
He added: ‘In 2005, eight unions balloted for joint industrial action.
‘They got agreement on their pensions without having to take that action.’
He added: ‘If we are all under attack, we should all work together and campaign and ultimately take industrial action.’
Dave Prentis, the leader of UNISON, told a press conference: ‘No way are we going to allow our members to pay for the bail-out of the banks.’
He added: ‘We want to make sure a Labour government does not cut public services.’
Asked to comment on Mark Serwotka’s call for joint industrial action, he said: ‘We will be campaigning to make sure that cuts are reversed.’