Ministers go private to thwart strike

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Secret plans to thwart the country's first national postal and fire strikes since the 1970s have been drawn up by the Government in an attempt to protect essential services from a rash of industrial action.

Secret plans to thwart the country's first national postal and fire strikes since the 1970s have been drawn up by the Government to protect vital services.

In an unprecedented move, ministers have agreed that a private company will deliver essential mail such as benefit giros and utility bills in the event of a postal workers' stoppage next month. They have also approved plans to bring in 30,000 soldiers to provide emergency cover if firefighters go ahead with threats to strike.

Last night, union leaders condemned the "macho" preparations of ministers and warned that it would be "appalling" if a Labour government tried to break legally constituted strikes.

The Independent has learnt that the Government's main emergency planning body, the Civil Contingencies Committee, met last week to discuss measures to cope with possible action by firemen, council staff, postal workers and train drivers.

Among the recommendations approved was a plan to monitor the activities of the new generation of left-wing union leaders.

Although council staff are being consulted on a pay deal, ministers are worried about possible indefinite strike action that could leave rubbish uncollected and social services restricted.

Downing Street has been warned that a firefighters' strike over pay is likely, and has approved plans, under Operation Fresco, to put Army units on stand-by to operate Green Goddess fire engines. All Army headquarters were told last week to plan for a strike in October.

On 12 September, the Communication Workers Union will declare the result of a ballot of 180,000 Royal Mail, Parcelforce and Post Office Counters staff over a plan to privatise the jobs of 7,000 workers. Ministers have said they intend to approve the use of Deya, a firm that currently delivers Yellow Pages, to distribute essential mail for councils, benefit offices and utilities.

A senior government source said: "We do not want a handful of militant individuals disrupting key services and bringing the country to a standstill. The fuel crisis taught us a valuable lesson in planning that we won't forget."

Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "It would be appalling for a Labour government to try to break strikes."

¿ Union leaders made an emergency £100,000 donation to the Labour Party after an appeal by its general secretary, David Triesman. The trade union liaison committee was told that the party was struggling to meet basic costs such as lighting and heating.

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