Unions are preparing to take on the Government in a long running battle that could include a co-ordinated wave of strikes and calculated defiance of the lobbying bill.
On the eve of the TUC's annual conference, its general secretary Frances O'Grady claims there is “unprecedented” unity among unions in the face of what they see as a series of threats to their own and their members' interests.
Thousands of public sector workers are liable to be drawn into industrial disputes over pay, pensions, jobs and privatisation. The two biggest teaching unions - the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers - announced plans today for regional strikes on October 1, to coincide with Conservative annual conference, followed by a one-day national stoppage before the end of term if there is no progress in their dispute.
They accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of “recklessness” and “megaphone diplomacy” over his failure to hold serious negotiations over their demands. He, in his turn, accused them of painting a false picture of the profession in claiming morale was low, arguing “it has never been so high”. However, he said he was prepared to meet them “any time, any place anywhere” to discuss their grievances.
Firefighters have already voted to strike over pension rights, and the Communication Workers Union is to ballot its members over whether to strike in protest against plans to privatise the Royal Mail.
Ms O'Grady, the first woman to lead the TUC, blames the strike threats on a government that is “out of touch”, and said that it is possible that the strikes could be co-ordinated, with TUC backing.
She added that the TUC is preparing a two year campaign on “everyday problems” like low pay, affordable housing and childcare - despite the threat that the lobbying bill will ban them from taking up these issues close to a general election. Asked whether the point of the campaign was to influence voters at the next election, she said: “You bet.”
“We've been campaigning for some time now that ordinary people's living standards should be at the heart of political policy debates at the next election,” she added.
Earlier this week, David Cameron defended the widely criticised lobbying bill on the grounds that trade unions “go on spending millions after millions trying to alter an election campaign” and that if the bill became law, it would “control” union spending.
Ms O'Grady retorted: “The lobbying bill is one of the biggest threats to freedom of speech we have seen in this country for years. This is supposed to be a free country where ordinary people are supposed to have a say, not one where we're gagged because professional politicians don't like what we're saying. You just kind of wonder where these people are getting their advice from.”