Workers face 'volatile cocktail' of job losses and cuts

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The Independent Online

Workers face a "volatile cocktail" of measures from the Government, including job losses and spending cuts, which could lead to disputes in the coming months, the head of the TUC warned today.

General secretary Brendan Barber said there could be some "difficult disputes" ahead in the wake of the public sector wage freeze, continued privatisation of services and pension cuts.

Mr Barber, speaking ahead of next week's TUC Congress in Manchester, announced that a campaign is to be launched calling on the public to join unions in defending public services and jobs which he likened to the bitter row over the poll tax when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

"The poll tax was defeated when government MPs returned to Westminster to report that their constituencies were in revolt. The poll tax offended the British people's basic sense of what's fair. So will the spending cuts.

"Every coalition MP with a small majority and every coalition MP who fought an election to oppose deep early cuts needs to feel the pressure from their constituents to change course."

Mr Barber said the TUC will use economic arguments to fight the Government, but he conceded that workers facing job losses and pay cuts could be involved in industrial disputes.

"We have a pretty volatile cocktail of issues, such as the public sector pay freeze, threats of further privatisation, re-structuring of public services and major worries about security of pensions. It is a pretty potent mixture and there could be difficult disputes as a result."

Responding to Mr Barber's comments, Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: "The spending cuts are not something that the Government would choose to do, but it is something the Government is required to do because of the state of the public finances.

"We have the largest peace-time deficit and we need to get that under control and it is important to get the level of public spending down.

"It is our objective to do that in a way that would take people with us, which is why we have tried to be open about the scale of the challenge and to engage people in informing those choices.

"We would look to all people to engage in a constructive way in the process we are having to undertake."

Mr Barber said next week's conference would be the most important in decades as union activists discuss Government policies which will do "great damage" to the country.

"Its programme of cuts, privatisation and redrawing the state is far more radical and dangerous than we have seen since the 1930s. Almost no part of the country, our economy or society will be left untouched.

"The spending cuts threaten to choke off what is an extremely fragile recovery. At worst we face a double-dip recession; at best, we will have years of jobless growth and a dire start in life for a generation of young people."

Mr Barber said the public sector wage bill made up 25p of every pound raised by the Government through tax, while 38p was spent directly on private sector goods and services.

"The scale of cuts we are promised in the Comprehensive Spending Review will inevitably bite deep into that. And with public and private sector staff losing their jobs and companies losing orders, it is absurd to pretend that private sector growth will fill the jobs gap," the TUC leader told a press briefing.

He accused the Government of acting through "political choice", not fiscal necessity, saying ministers were "hacking away" at public services.

The TUC Congress will invite the public to join its campaign, which will include a lobby of Parliament the day before the spending review is announced on October 20, and a national demonstration next March.