Unions plan mass demonstration against government

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The Independent Online

Workers are facing a "volatile cocktail" of job cuts and attacks on pay and pensions which could spark industrial action, the head of the TUC said today.

The warning came after a meeting to discuss co-ordinated action against the Government's spending cuts.

Officials from the country's biggest trade unions, representing workers in the public and private sectors, met in London amid growing anger at the impact of the Government's cuts on jobs and services.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said later: "The Government's agenda is doing huge damage to the economy and vital public services. The TUC is mounting a wide campaign against these mistaken policies.

"Today's meeting was to consider the appropriate industrial response to the volatile cocktail of issues that face union members across the public sector - the pay freeze, job cuts and attacks on pensions.

"No-one is talking about a general strike, but of course these attacks on our members could well give rise to industrial action around specific disputes.

"Today's meeting showed a clear determination for unions to work together on industrial issues including, as a last resort, industrial action when members support it.

"The TUC will step up its work co-ordinating the industrial work of unions. There will be monthly meetings of all the TUC's public sector unions in the Public Services Liaison Group, and the TUC's General Council will consider at each of its meetings a report of what is happening across the whole economy."

Mr Barber revealed that, following talks with Chancellor George Osborne, the Government had agreed to hold talks on the future of public service pensions, saying ministers had now accepted that they will not force through changes in the March Budget.

"These will be difficult negotiations as public service workers will not allow their pensions to be hammered. We hope that the talks can make progress, but we cannot rule out industrial action taking place on this issue.

"The TUC will continue its campaign against the deep and rapid spending cuts. Polls show that public opinion is shifting, and people understand just how unfair and damaging these cuts will prove to public services, jobs and the wider economy," said Mr Barber.

The TUC leader said an anti-cuts demonstration being held on March 26 will be a "huge event", at which the British people will come together to show their opposition to the Government's cuts.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said half a million of his members faced losing their jobs and many workers were being hit by a pay freeze and the prospect of worse pensions.

Workers would have "no choice" but to take action if the cuts went ahead, especially on pensions, said Mr Prentis.

"We have agreed to co-ordinate all our negotiations and discussions through the TUC. We will work together to fight these cuts because otherwise we will see hundreds of thousands of workers made unemployed, services decimated and even the NHS privatised."

Bob Crow, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "Today we have sent out a clear message to the ConDem Government that there is real unity of purpose amongst the trade unions as we mobilise to fight back against the most savage assault on jobs, wages, public services and pensions in decades.

"The harsh realities of pay freezes, rocketing living costs, job losses and stagflation are now biting the length and breadth of Britain and communities are fighting back, with organised Labour leading from the front.

"Meanwhile, down in the City, it's party time as £7 billion in bonuses is sloshing around the bars and boardrooms.

"There is no way nurses and other workers should be taking the hit while those who created this crisis are laughing all the way to the bank."

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "It was a very good first meeting and we made a lot of progress towards a more coordinated approach to campaigning against the Government's cuts.

"PCS fundamentally rejects the need for these cuts, which are totally unnecessary and politically motivated. If ministers persist in driving them through without regard for the damage they're causing, then industrial action would seem to be inevitable.

"What was clear at the meeting was that, across the union movement and the millions of people we represent, low and modestly paid workers are being blamed and punished for an economic crisis they did not cause."