London 2012: Unite's Olympics strike threat condemned


David Cameron: "Labour needs to condemn this utterly"

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Suggestions from the leader of the UK's biggest union that workers could strike during the London Olympics have been condemned by political leaders.

Len McCluskey, of Unite, told the Guardian that civil disobedience could be timed to disrupt the 2012 Games.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron called the idea "unacceptable and unpatriotic". Labour has also criticised Mr McCluskey's comments.

However, union sources told the BBC there were no specific strike plans.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the BBC: "People will just be gobsmacked, appalled, at Mr McCluskey's remarks.

"At a time when we can showcase to the world that we are positively and optimistically putting on this fantastic event, he wants to bring people out on the streets."

The Liberal Democrat leader said to "mess up the Olympics to prove a point" would be bad for the country and called on Labour leader Ed Miliband to "rein in" Mr McCluskey, whose union is Labour's largest donor.

And Mr Cameron also told MPs that Labour "need to condemn this utterly and start turning back the money" from Unite.

Conservative co-chairman Baroness Warsi agreed, calling the comments "an appalling display of naked self-interest".

"It is disgraceful for a trade union boss to be calling for mass disruption when the eyes of the world will be on Britain," she told the BBC.

'Right to protest'

Mr McCluskey had told the Guardian: "If the Olympics provide us with an opportunity, then that's exactly one that we should be looking at.

"The attacks that are being launched on public sector workers at the moment are so deep and ideological that the idea the world should arrive in London and have these wonderful Olympic Games as though everything is nice and rosy in the garden is unthinkable.

London 2012 - One extraordinary year

London 2012 One extraordinary year graphic

"Our very way of life is being attacked. By then this crazy Health and Social Care Bill may have been passed, so we are looking at the privatisation of our National Health Service.

"The unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting."

Mr McCluskey said the purpose of protest was "to bring your grievances to the attention of as many people as possible".

However, Mr Miliband said: "Any threat to the Olympics is totally unacceptable and wrong.

"This is a celebration for the whole country and must not be disrupted."

Earlier, his deputy Harriet Harman had told the BBC it was inconceivable that union members would want to disrupt the Games.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: "Of course unions seek fair reward for the extra work and long hours that will be required during what will be the busiest ever time for public transport and other public services, and not all such negotiations have been concluded.

"But of course unions want a Games of which we can all be proud."

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith said Unite insiders had played down the prospect of strikes, with one saying there was "nothing specific planned".

"They take the view Mr McCluskey was letting off steam at his frustrations with government policy but they are acutely aware [strike action] would be deeply unpopular and probably counter-productive," our correspondent added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1241.

    Everyone should know it's a threat said to get attention. You can condemn it, but all of the senior politicians have reacted; something they failed to do over previous action. My bet? The unions will keep the threat open even if they believe members would never vote to strike over the dates.
    Personally I would back strikes at least they will pay attention to us for once... even get something done?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1088.

    My view is that McCluskey's comment about possible strikes during the Olympics is a negotiating tactic. They (rightly) don't think the goverment is engaging in meaningful negotiations, and are simply pointing out what the nuclear option is, if they're provoked too much. I very much doubt that strikes will actually go ahead during the Olympics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1085.

    "The unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting."

    Whilst I have every sympathy for what Mr McCluskey is saying, by chosing the Olympics as a possible time to call any strikes, he is not doing himself or any of the unions and workers concerned, any favours at all, and is more likely to turn the general population away from what he is fighting for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    Yes. I can see why unions would be castigated about slightly impacting Boris's BigSoc Sports Day in order to try and protect the long term interests of millions of people. How irresponsible of them for putting working peoples livelihoods in front of the 'hop, skip and jump'. We're all in this together, people! (Unless you live outside London, whereupon you just get to pay for it...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    Typical union tactics. A minority seeking to feather their own nests at the expense of the majority.


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