Mass pension strikes to go ahead despite Labour plea

 

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Trade unions will today defy Ed Miliband's plea for them to hold back from striking over cuts to public sector pensions by backing a wave of co-ordinated industrial action this winter.

As both Government ministers and union leaders admitted that strikes look inevitable, the TUC's annual conference in London will endorse joint action to maximise the unions' muscle – and the possible disruption for the general public. The three biggest unions – Unite, the GMB and Unison-- are expected to ballot their members shortly, in a move that could lead to strikes from November.

Yesterday, Mr Miliband was heckled when he told the conference it was a mistake to call strikes while talks with the Government on pensions were continuing. There were cries of "shame" from delegates, some of whom also protested when the Labour leader defended academy schools.

Mr Miliband said: "I fully understand why millions of decent public sector workers feel angry. But while negotiations were going on, I believe it was a mistake for strikes to happen [in June]. I continue to believe that. But what we need now is meaningful negotiation to prevent further confrontation over the autumn."

In a largely conciliatory speech, he insisted that a modernised trade union movement had a big role to play in creating a "new economy". But he warned the TUC that Labour would not be able to promise to reverse many of the spending cuts being made by the Coalition Government. "It is straighter for me to say that to you now," he said. "We are not going to be able to spend our way to a new economy... I sometimes hear it said that Labour opposes every cut. I know some of you wish it were true. But we don't."

In a question-and-answer session, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, one of three unions which took action in June, told Mr Miliband there was now "no real negotiations going on" with the Government over pensions.

Later Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, said: "The negotiations that are now taking place don't leave us with any cause for optimism. It looks as though we are inevitably heading for industrial action."

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