TUC warns of co-ordinated strike action

Royal Mail vans Postal workers are among a range of unionised workers who are considering industrial action

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The leader of the TUC has warned that unions may come together to strike on a range of issues affecting members.

Frances O'Grady, the TUC's general secretary, raised the prospect of co-ordinated strike action in the coming months ahead of the annual TUC Congress that starts this weekend.

She said she had had meetings with several unions involved in disputes.

Postal workers, firefighters and teachers are among those who have announced plans for industrial action.

Action

On Thursday, the two biggest teaching unions announced plans for a one-day national strike over pay, pensions and workloads.

Postal workers are also being balloted in a dispute linked to the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Ms O'Grady said: "I've met unions that are either planning, considering or have ballots on issues of national significance.

"My job is to co-ordinate that, where unions want it and where members vote for it."

She said that there were many ways in which co-ordination could take place, but she insisted that no-one should rush into strike action.

Last year, the Congress voted to consider the practicalities of holding a general strike.

But Ms O'Grady said that the appetite now was to focus on the disputes taking place and try to resolve them.

Funding

This year's Congress risks being overshadowed by the growing row over plans to reform the link between trade unions and the Labour party.

But Ms O'Grady said she expected the Labour party leader, Ed Miliband, who will speak to the Congress on Tuesday, to get a good reception and that she did not see any desire to break the link between the Labour party and trade unions.

She said: "Unlike some of his predecessors, he's not embarrassed by unions. He sees the importance and right of ordinary working people to have a voice."

Officially the issue is not on the agenda. The TUC is made up of 54 unions. Just 15 of them affiliate to Labour.

They do, however, include some of the biggest: Unite and the GMB.

This week, the GMB union said it would cut its funding to Labour by £1.1m, in response to plans by Mr Miliband to end the automatic affiliation of union members to the party.

Debt

The 145th annual Trades Union Congress gets under way at Bournemouth on Sunday.

Hundreds of union officials and delegates will debate issues including zero-hours contracts, alternatives to austerity, workers' rights and defending public services.

Union membership has been in decline in recent years. The most recent government figures suggest it rose slightly in 2012 on the back of rising employment levels. Overall membership has more than halved since the peak of 13 million in 1979.

Frances O'Grady became the first woman to lead the TUC at the start of the year.

Ahead of her first Congress as general secretary, she says her main challenge is to put the focus on what is happening to ordinary families.

She says that while there are signs of growth in the economy, she fears this is not based upon wage growth, but rising household debt.

"The big debate becomes - who benefits?" she says. "If, as they say, Britain is booming, where is ordinary people's share?"

In her speech to Congress on Monday, she is expected to highlight the TUC's alternative policy agenda, which includes the goal of full employment, as well as the need for low-cost housing and fair pay.

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