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Unison public sector union leader issues 'call to arms'

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Media captionUnison general secretary Dave Prentis: "This is the fight of our lives...and we must win"

The head of the UK's second largest union has issued a "call to arms" to his members over pension reforms.

He told them to prepare for a campaign of strikes "without precedent".

"Every day we keep up the pressure, we wear them down, sap their strength and bring them closer to breaking point," said Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union.

Although he indicated his willingness to negotiate, he said they must "prepare for the worst".

"To those who say name the day, I say a day won't be enough, this coalition won't move with just one day of action," he said.

"To those who say negotiate, I say any time, anywhere, for as long as it takes."

Negotiations with the government are set to resume on 27 June.

'Biggest test'

Other unions have announced plans to strike on 30 June. However, Unison says it would need more time to organise a vote among its 1.3 million members.

"Do not underestimate the outrage and the anger of our members," he said, warning the prime minister, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Mr Prentis was addressing some 2,000 delegates from his union - which represents workers in healthcare, utilities, local government, police support and teaching - who are meeting in Manchester over four days.

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Media captionDave Prentis: "Of course we don't want to knock the UK economy ... but what else do we do?"

He called pension reform "our biggest test yet", before listing a series of grievances, including the rise in pension contributions from 6% to an average 9% of pay.

Mr Prentis expressed his particular anger at the raising of the retirement age for women to 66, which he called "daylight robbery".

He also made a general broadside against "Cameron's Britain" with frequent references to the money made by bankers in the City, and called on the coalition government to tell bankers: "you created this mess, you clear it up".

"If there's money for bailing out the banks... if there's money for war... then there's money for our public services," he said.

The review of the National Health Service posed a threat to the health service "greater than at any time since 1948," he said.

"We want the bill scrapped, and we will fight you every step of the way."

'Scare stories'

The Unison head was particularly damning of statements on television by Liberal Democrat Treasury minister Danny Alexander over the weekend, which he said had "enraged our members and increased the chances of a strike".

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Media captionDanny Alexander: "I think that's a very fair and balanced offer"

Mr Alexander had accused the unions of spreading "scare stories" about planned reforms, which he claimed were "not an assault" on pensions.

He added that while he was prepared to discuss the detailed implementation of the proposals, the government would be sticking to the broad principles.

But in his speech, Mr Prentis said the Liberal Democrat Treasury minister had become the Tories' "lightning rod" and would be "hung out to dry".

He was also dismissive of Labour's shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who urged unions not to fall into a government "trap" by striking over plans to reform public sector pensions.

"When we want your advice, Ed, we'll ask for it," he said, before later threatening that "in future we will only support Labour candidates who support our values, our people and our union".

Motions to be considered by the conference include an explicit call for strike action over the "coalition's attack on public services".

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