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 239.

    "Well Mr. Barber and his collegues will know all about riots, wouldn't they.
    They have been oraganising them for years. OOPS sorry they call them pickets don't they. YEEEES."

    And for the rest of us living in the 21st century, in the UK, on planet earth...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    225. JonDM "Again.. if people were happy, why did they vote for change? Surely they would believe their own life experience rather than people who you consider not trustworthy?"

    Answer. because they foolishly believed liars, and 13 years later, after several wars (at least one illegal), boom n bust not eliminated, the same people booted them out, but not before the UK was on its knees.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    it was so much better after mad maggie sold of 90% of uk PLC to her forigen mates at 1P in the pound that when your mate John can into power dispite claiming no tax rises he increased them by record amounts lol
    So i guess after 14 years of tory rule a tory found the economy in such a bad state he had no other option.
    Or is it because tories always tax heavily the poorest

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    221. jpmcq "Using your example of a public sector employee earning 20k, the majority of that is going to find its way into the private sector, so does it not benefit the economy?"

    OMG! Of course! How could I not see that? How dumb am I?
    So, instead of cutting the public sector, we should treble it in numbers and hey presto, all is golden!!!
    One minor detail: where exactly do we get the money?

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    211.Darren Shepperd
    "..without public services private companies would not be able to trade at all.." etc.

    Yes I accept that. My argument is that the public sector is simply too big for the private sector to support, and has been for years - the only difference is that up to c.2008, govt was able to wilfully borrow to fund the shortfall, without distress. Now we are no longer able to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    So can i take it that you think its great that businesses can pay a full time worker less than it costs to survive?
    Its why we have working tax credits and other benefits for full time workers because business will pay as little as they can legally get away with while paying themselves thousands of times more (not that they are worth it)

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    i think everyone with a little common sense will agree that the public sector is necessary, the problem with it is its too big and everyone working in it only compares their wages to the highest in the country when argueing for a payrise...we might even consider ourselves lucky if we compare ourselves to something like the manufacturing sectors wages....

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    I would like to hear a bit of support from Brendan Barber for union members in the private sector where I work people shy away from joining a union because all they ever hear or see is support for the public sector. while they need all the support they can get members in the private sector have just as many problems

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    The public sector is too expensive and the only way to pay for it is by borrowing. But, we could eliminate all the spending cuts if the public sector privatised itself. Let’s have a Ryanair approach to policing: £1 for a 999 call (mobile tariffs may differ), £5 to ask the time, £50 to chase a mugger…

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    So you think private = profits to teh tax payer while public = costs to the tax payer?

    Perhaps you should remember how many people working in the private sector are paid so little they need to claim benefits to even be able to cover basic living.
    Or does that not count as an expense?
    and also remember how much of the public workers money ends up being paid to businesses

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Well Mr. Barber and his collegues will know all about riots, wouldn't they.
    They have been oraganising them for years. OOPS sorry they call them pickets don't they. YEEEES.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.


    OK, let me explain: The tax payers pays a public sector worker (say) £20K. The tax payer gets back £2505 (20% of £12,525) plus some NI.
    Thus, a nett saving of some £17K (85%).
    That works for me!

    Thats because you cannot add up & have no idea of reality. You exclude tax collection cost & exclude that most familys on £20k are in receipt of tax credits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    216. soarerman0264
    195 smartignoramus
    "I think you have a short memory or are just to young to remember that generally people were totally hacked off with Major and his crew in 1997.The country was in a mess,thats why they got booted out."

    Most people with good memories (like me) know very well that the UK was in a far better state in 1997 than when Labour left it in 2010 !!!!
    You are funny!

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Of course Davids reactions are at best stupid at worst insidious.
    All the proposed new measures are clearly aimed at just one section of society and ignore the fact that their is already more than enough legislation in place
    His claim of remove benefits/homes for families hits workers (working tax credits) and the innocent not just the person who did the offence but will never effect the wealthy

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    27 Minutes ago
    Because in 1997 the Tories had put the UK into a golden economic era and too many in the UK believed Blair et al and decided to give Labour a go
    Again.. if people were happy, why did they vote for change? Surely they would believe their own life experience rather than people who you consider not trustworthy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    The people rioting here in liverpool were the same people who ruin lives on a day to day basis, and face no serious punishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    209.Mr Max

    I could argue that you have a disproportionate amount of wealth compared to someone in sub-saharan Africa. Would you agree?

    People on UK benefits have a disproportionate amount of wealth in comparison to sub-saharah Africa, its like comparing a grain of sand to the moon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    I am not a staunch trade unionist,but it is disappointing to see some of the bitter attacks here on unions. Many of the things we take for granted today enjoyed by all! were hard fought for and although there are and have always been some capitalists (bosses/businessmen) who have been minded to improve the lot for their workers, the majority didn't give a damn no matter how bad their conditions !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    202. SmartIgnoramus

    Using your example of a public sector employee earning 20k, the majority of that is going to find its way into the private sector, so does it not benefit the economy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    15 Minutes ago
    JonDM 174

    Because sorting out a mess means being responsible and taking tough choices. Something that far too many people in this country appear unable to understand.
    And who might they be? Tory swing voters who vote Labour when they dont get what they want?


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