Union fires warning shot over government spending

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The Independent Online
The honeymoon period for the Government with the Labour movement came to an end yesterday when Britain's biggest union warned ministers that they would be committing "political suicide" if they stuck to spending plans.

The annual conference of Unison in Brighton warned the Blair administration that its intended adherence to the previous government's tight budgets would mean "the nail in the coffin for public services as we know them".

Ministers were issued with the veiled threat of industrial action if they stuck to their guns on spending. "A Labour government cannot expect the membership of Unison to co-operate with or be passive to attacks or cuts to jobs in the public sector," a motion warned.

Delegates' overwhelming support for critical resolutions was, however, coupled with strong backing for a statement from the executive which called for a constructive relationship with the Government. The union should work with ministers where that was possible and where it was not it would "argue clear rational alternatives", the statement said.

Nevertheless there was a demand for the re-nationalisation of the railways and utilities and the repeal of "all anti-union legislation" none of which the Cabinet would find remotely acceptable. The desperate nature of the motions passed illustrates the deep divisions between the activist-dominated conference and the relatively moderate leadership.

General secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe emphasised that reducing unemployment was a priority, but warned that present policies and budgets were placing "intolerable strains on our members". He predicted that between 60,000 and 70,000 jobs would be lost in local government, 30,000 to 50,000 in the NHS, and many more elsewhere.

Delegates also supported a motion that there should be no compromise on the minimum wage, which the union wants set at half male median earnings - pounds 4.42 an hour at current rates.