Union leader issues cuts warning to PM

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister was today given a stark warning over the mood of union leaders to the prospect of public spending cuts when a rail workers' official said he would have "no hesitation" in balloting for strikes.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union raised the prospect of industrial action to resist cuts and job losses, adding that he would look at opportunities to co-ordinate strikes with other unions.

Speaking hours before Gordon Brown was due to address the TUC Congress in Liverpool, Mr Crow said: "Both Labour and the Tories have committed themselves to cuts and privatisation and the trade unions have to take the lead in mobilising resistance and we should start preparing right now here in Liverpool.

"RMT is in no doubt that all the main parties are softening up the public in the run up to the election and that the real cuts that will be unleashed after the votes are counted will be more savage and more severe than any party leader is prepared to admit.

"In many areas those cuts are already a reality. We have been warned that up to 2,500 jobs are under threat on Network Rail maintenance and we have seen this week that hundreds of firefighter posts are facing the axe.

"That's already happening under Gordon Brown's leadership and he should leave Liverpool this afternoon with a clear message that the fightback starts here."

The warning comes just hours before Mr Brown's speech, in which he is expected to admit for the first time that spending "cuts" are needed to address the state of Britain's finances.

The Prime Minister has so far avoided using the c-word while seeking to paint the Tories as the party that would slash public spending, but now looks set to acknowledge what many independent forecasters believe is inevitable.

The Conservatives - accused by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson yesterday of wanting to impose "savage" cuts - are likely to seize on Mr Brown's change of language.

Mr Brown will urge voters not to risk the economic recovery with the Tories.

As he seeks to shape the debate on public spending ahead of the next general election, he will claim that the British economy is on the road to recovery but warn there is no room for complacency.

Mr Brown is expected to build on comments from Lord Mandelson yesterday that Labour would reduce the country's massive debt by being "wise spenders", while the Tories were "foaming at the mouth" at the prospect of spending less on the NHS and schools.

The Business Secretary insisted that it was too early to start reducing the £175 billion deficit now, warning that Tory plans to rein in spending immediately risked "triggering an economic relapse" before Britain has recovered from recession.

Reports suggested Mr Brown would echo Lord Mandelson's sentiments, but also admit the need for cuts in his speech today - a move which may alarm union leaders.

According to extracts that emerged at the weekend, Mr Brown is to say: "Today we are on a road towards recovery - but things are still fragile, not automatic, and the recovery needs to be nurtured.

"People's livelihoods and homes and savings are still hanging in the balance, and so today I say to you: don't put the recovery at risk.

"Don't risk it with the Tories whose obsessive anti-state ideology means they can't see a role for government in either recession or recovery."

He will add: "We have to make tough choices in public spending and we will need the support of the Labour movement in protecting the front line first.

"Our opponents have one approach to reducing the deficit: slashing jobs and abandoning national pay bargaining. We have another - taking tough choices and empowering those who deliver services to innovate and secure greater value for money."

On Friday the PM entertained union leaders at Chequers, where he reportedly told them that public sector jobs would not be lost under a future Labour government.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said in his keynote address that the UK economy had "fallen off a cliff" and would only start recovering when unemployment comes down and decent jobs are created.