TUC chief Brendan Barber attacks PM's riot response


TUC general secretary Brendan Barber: "The government's response to the riots has been profoundly wrong"

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David Cameron's response to the riots that swept through some English cities last month was "profoundly wrong", TUC chief Brendan Barber has said.

He accused the PM of "reaching for simplistic cliches about moral decay", rather than tackling underlying causes.

In a speech to the TUC conference he also called for an alternative to the coalition's economic policies, based on fair tax, bank reform and growth.

Coalition spending cuts are set to dominate the three-day gathering.

In his opening address to delegates, Mr Barber said the government risked plunging the economy into a recession worse than the one sparked by the financial crisis of 2008 if it failed to change economic course.

'Deep fractures'

He vowed to fight the government's "outrageous" plans for public service pensions and called for "real reform" of the financial system, in the wake of the Vickers Report on breaking up the banks.

But he also sought to link cuts in government spending and the government's deficit reduction plan to the riots - something Ed Miliband and most other senior Labour figures have stopped short of doing.

"The prime minister chose to describe these events as 'criminality pure and simple' - but it isn't so simple and what happened in August actually revealed deep fractures within our society," said Mr Barber.

Without the factory-based mass membership of the old days, the trade unions sometimes struggle to connect with people outside the public sector.

Brendan Barber wants that to change.

In his speech he said the unions have to lead a campaign for a new economic model.

What the 'alternative' is remains a sketchy concept - but a theme of the TUC conference will clearly be that cutting the deficit is only a small part of Britain's economic problems.

Another key issue of the week will be the stalled talks between the unions and the government over public sector pensions.

Mr Barber chose not to ratchet up the strike rhetoric - he's too canny for that - but there will be pressure in Congress House this week to mobilise the unions towards widespread strikes later in the year.

The TUC's general secretary also ruminated on the riots and said what few political leaders have - that the cuts are going to make the underlying problems behind the riots worse.

"A society that ranks among the most unequal anywhere in the developed world; where a super rich elite have been allowed to float free from the rest of us; where a generation of young people are growing up without work, without prospects, without hope."

He said the government's response to the riots had been "profoundly wrong".

"Rather than addressing the complex long-term factors that lie behind the alienation - the poverty, the lack of social mobility, young lives stunted by hope denied - they have instead reached for simplistic cliches about moral decay.

"And yet as they have retreated to Victorian language about the undeserving poor, they have said nothing about moral disintegration among the rich."

He said the disorder "underlined the folly of coalition policy" such as withdrawing Educational Maintenance Allowance to "disadvantaged teenagers", cutting youth service funding and abolishing Labour's Future Jobs Fund.

"Of course I accept the riots were not caused by the cuts - but as any fair-minded person must see the cuts will undoubtedly make the underlying problems much worse," he told delegates.


Mr Barber, who was speaking at Congress House, the TUC's headquarters, said he did not want to see a further wave of strikes but there was a "strong risk" of that happening unless there was a breakthrough in talks over proposed increases to public sector workers' pension contributions.

Teachers and civil servants went on strike in June over the government's public sector pension reforms and further industrial action has been planned for November.

Start Quote

We are sitting round the table talking about difficult issues”

End Quote No 10 spokeswoman

Mr Barber said the government had "set the cruel and mistaken objective of getting rid of the deficit in just four years" - and he called for a "movement for the alternative" based on fair tax and growth.

Len McCluskey, leader of Britain's biggest union Unite, gave a speech telling ministers that workers would resist attacks on jobs, pay and pensions.

No government ministers are speaking at the congress.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said the calls for industrial action were "disappointing" while talks with the unions on pensions are ongoing.

Asked about Mr Barber's criticism of government cuts, she said ministers recognised that times are tough but the government had to deal with the deficit and get public spending under control to get the economy back on track.

She said talks with the unions on pensions are progressing well, adding: "We are sitting round the table talking about difficult issues and we want to make sure that public sector pensions are generous but affordable."

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has been criticised by union bosses for his decision not to back strikes by public sector workers while talks with ministers are ongoing, is due to address the TUC conference on Tuesday.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls refused to be drawn on whether Labour would back a fresh round of strikes in the autumn, but said he believed the TUC had acted "in a very responsible way" over the pensions talks despite "inflammatory statements" by government ministers.

"I hope the government will avoid the confrontation which I fear they are seeking," he told the BBC News Channel.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Wouldn't put much gravity on the rantings of a few economically illiterate lefties. They are SO hypocritical, whinghing about the plight of their members whilst trousering large fat salaries and perks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Ahh the good old Tory tactic of divide and conquer is in full swing.

    The collective mind-set of the UK is in absolute conflict. Any party who turns people against each other as much as this is dangerous. Why are public servants all of a sudden evil? Why all of a sudden has long-term awareness vanished?

    Look at the Chinese, they work as a whole which is the reason for their success.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    64 - I too have worked in both. In the non unionised places there was sensible dialogue with management and pay was based upon individual results. Result no passengers carried. In unionised environement we paid a deduction every month to fund strutting peacocks of reps who were largely as effective as chocolate teapots and we had collective bargaining where the ineffective were carried by the rest

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    As with their backing of Ed Miliband, unions are once again onto a loser, they will again be remembered/reported/chastized & damaged for rough shod extreme speeches rather than for any realistic competant speeches & motions.

    Thing with TUC conference, is that it is now the only place where extreme left can air their vocal cords, damaging the reasonable centre ground into the bargain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    When public sector goes on strike the only thing I notice is that the roads are clearer and it's easy to get work.

    Go for it I say. Makes my life easier, and saves the treasury a fortune each day they're busy not getting paid doing nothing at home, rather than getting paid for doing nothing at work, and I say this as someone who worked in public sector for 7 years, ending 3 years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Some valid points but the TUC has no room to talk,it consistently fails its membership,it hasn't actually won a major tussle with the government since Arthur Scargill was a lad,its hirearchy pays itself exhorbitant amounts in salaries to sit about pontificating whilst actually doing nothing and this is more of the same.If the TUC wants change it has to fight for it.No sign of that.....just waffle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    TUs only have themselves to blame for the cuts. They all back Labour with tens of millions of pounds and yet Labour, for all the boasting of Britains superior and stable banking sector, were not even acknowledging and regulating against the risky practises employed by banks. There judgment is so bad, and yet they are all so smug and busy with Tory bashing they can't see their hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    People whinging about the bankers is getting tiresome. The whole reason we could afford such a bloated public sector in the first place is because it was funded off the back of the vast corporate and personal taxes the bankers brought in for the country in the boom times.

    It seems hypocritical for the public sector to live off their success when things are good, and slag them off when it's bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    The cliches were coming so thick and fast from Mr Barber that I was waiting for the immortal "aspirations of wir members" so beloved of people like Jimmy Knapp and Mick Magagey. Unions now largely represent public sector workers who now, on average, earn more than their private sector counterparts and have some form of pension linked to salary. They may have pay freezes but few have had pay cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Anyone with an iota of sense must realize that the cumulative actions of many governments (Thatcher and new Labour included) have led to greater inequality across British society. Its almost as though our top politicians (all flavours) are consciously trying to propagate a "peasant class" and then they seem surprised when the peasants revolt. I blame unbridled Capitalism and Globalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Why is it every time tories get in there is civil unrest?We got another 4 years of this god help our society so many jobs lost thousands of police and bankers and public secter jobs gone.Families our going hungry as this government now is dragging its feet on important issues.I just hope theTUC puts them through the ringer.WE CAN ALL HOPE I SUPPOSE..

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    And what do the TUC propose about the riots a month ago or what did they say when we had financial meltdown? Nothing? What did they do about making their glove puppet the Labour party improve work conditions and umemployment benefits and pensions for all when Labour had a clear majority? Nothing. The TUC focuses on its members and itself and has no credibility for wider comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Typical of blood-crazed loony left to complain about the problem - they'd be the very very first in the line to prevent any changes that might fix it. They're as self-serving as the tory elite - can't we get rid of -all- of them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    The extremist fools will enevitably drown out the competants, both in conference & also in the media coverage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    If the riots were not part of the social decline sweeping through our country then I dont know what is. It's all part of the strewn mosaic that is Britain 2011, and next year it gets worse. Will the last person to leave the country please turn off the lights, though ideas wise they went out a long time ago. Rue Brittania, sad days indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Funny innit? 30 years of declining trade union membership is the same 30 years of increasing inequality in our society. When the workers voice is gone, how will they be heard? Through fire.......

    Unionised work places are better places to work with better pay and better management practices. Having worked in both unionised and non unionised pplaces, I know which are the better to work in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The North of the UK has long been poorer, and harder hit by the recession in terms of unemployment. Why did the North of England largely go unaffected when it suffers more from such problems?

    The riots were started by gangs and followed up by a bunch of opportunists who thought they wouldn't get caught grabbing a "free" TV, it's as simple as that- the riots correlate to cities with gang problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    David cameron has hit the working class and the welfare system to hard.I hope the tuc gets what it wants but even if they meet half way it will not be enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The good old union leaders. Lots and lots of criticism and no ideas! If they put as much effort in to providing solutions to help people as they put in to their one dimensional rhetoric we might be able to take them seriously. What part of 'The Labour Party wasted all the money!' do they not understand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    1 Minute Ago
    With regard to the two Tory peers released early today from prison sentences for helping themselve to thousands in public money, will the imprisoned rioters be eleigible for comparative leniency?
    Only if they are friends of Ronnie Biggs.


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