Unions prepare for battle over spending cuts

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Indy Politics

Unions were preparing to do battle with the Government tonight over "obscene" cuts to public services.

And the country's biggest council is set to be the first battleground of a campaign to fight spending cuts which could spark a wave of strikes in the coming months.



Thousands of Birmingham City Council workers will hold a mass meeting on September 23 after receiving letters warning they could lose their jobs under plans to slash spending.



The TUC Congress agreed to co-ordinate campaigns and industrial action amid warnings that some unions have already started preparing to launch stoppages.



Millions of workers are now on a collision course with the Government as the scale of the austerity measures unfolds.



Leaders of the country's biggest unions lined up at the TUC conference in Manchester to lambast the coalition for its "reckless" spending cuts, which they said had already led to more than 200,000 job losses or threats of redundancies among public sector workers.



Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said it was a "lie" the country could not afford decent public services, arguing that the Government was making cuts because it wanted to promote privatisation.



"If there's money available to bail out banks and bonuses, if there's money for war and Trident, there's money for our public services.



"If money is tight, never mind a pay freeze for our members, how about a pay freeze for bankers? We've seen enough of what they've done, we've had enough of their greed and arrogance. It's them, not our members, who should be doing more for less."



Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, who has called for civil disobedience to defend public services, drew loud applause from delegates when he said: "We lie down or stand up and fight."



Gail Cartmail, of Unite, said unions were facing the "fight of our lives" and warned that women would suffer most from public spending cuts.



Brian Strutton of the GMB said a million people could lose their jobs as a result of the "reckless" cuts.



Matt Wrack, of the Fire Brigades Union, said cutting Government budgets by 25% or 40% was "lunacy", adding that unions had to stop the cuts.



A survey of more than 1,000 adults for the FBU showed that nine out of 10 wanted the number of frontline firefighters to stay the same or be increased.



TUC general secretary Brendan Barber attacked the "demolition Government", warning that the current austerity drive would damage public services and cost huge numbers of jobs.



The GMB said Birmingham City Council was set to be the first test of unions working together to defend public services.



Regional officer Joe Morgan said: "The workers have been told if they don't accept new contracts they will be dismissed and re-engaged on worse conditions.



"The council's chief executive is acting like a school bully by saying that workers have to accept this or they will be sacked without compensation. Our members are in shock and are up in arms."



The council confirmed it had issued warning notices to 25,000 staff but said no figure for any job cuts had been decided.



Chief executive Stephen Hughes said: "It is estimated the council will need to reduce its net expenditure by £330 million over the next three to four years, which equates to around a third of our overall net spend.



"The magnitude of this financial pressure is immense. The council needs to radically review its overheads and expenditure and, as part of this, there is a need to broaden the existing review of employee allowances and terms and conditions of employment which began earlier this year.



"We also have a duty to ensure that any payments that we make to employees are fair and meet the legal requirements of equal pay legislation."





Unison general secretary Dave Prentis called on Birmingham City Council to withdraw the notices, which have been sent to the entire non-schools staff of around 26,000 workers, adding: "This is a disgraceful way to treat loyal council workers.



"Birmingham City Council needs to think again and withdraw the threat of redundancy hanging over the heads of 26,000 staff.



"The redundancy notices came out of the blue and these bullying tactics are not the way to negotiate.



"The council is obsessed with job cuts, regardless of the effect on services to the people of Birmingham.



"The council needs to come and talk with the unions and work out a way through to find a solution, instead of going straight for a nuclear option."

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