Big unions may strike on eve of election

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Labour's biggest backers has defied a personal plea from the party leadership and pressed ahead with a union ballot on industrial action which could result in up to a million council workers walking out just before a general election.

Ian McCartney, Labour's chairman, has written to the unions urging them to drop plans for stoppages over pensions in "the next few crucial months". But yesterday the Transport & General (T&G) decided to hold a strike vote on changes to the pension scheme.

Members of Unison, Britain's biggest union and an even larger donor to the party, are also being balloted on industrial action.

Peter Allenson, national officer of the T&G, said: "The Government is intent on making hard-pressed council workers work longer for less. We reject a `work till you drop' culture and the Government should be setting an example in pension provision rather than pushing through cuts to benefits."

"The Unison and T&G ballots will both close on 9 March and the date of the first strike has been provisionally set for 23 March. The Government is expected to call a general election for 5 May.

The unions are protesting at the removal of the right of employees with long service to retire at 60 with a full pension. And under new rules, early retirement packages would only be available from 50 rather than 55. Local government employers say they have no control over the statutory pension scheme, which has been changed by an Act of Parliament.