UK Politics

TUC says 'manage economy like the Olympics'

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Media captionBrendan Barber: "Just as the Olympics needed new infrastructure, so does the rest of the country"

Trade union movement leader Brendan Barber is urging the government to "learn from the Olympics" in creating policies to boost the economy.

The TUC chief said the success of British athletes funded by public money show "private isn't always best and the market doesn't always deliver".

Mr Barber also argued the coalition has failed to learn the economic "lessons" of the 1930s and 1980s.

And he warned of possible strike action by public sector workers.

But he dismissed talk of a "general strike", as delegates prepare to discuss co-ordinated industrial action at the TUC's annual Congress, in Brighton, which lasts until Wednesday.

Mr Barber told BBC Radio 4's Today: "I'm certainly not talking about a general strike, but strikes in particular areas.

"Look, to have a strike, that comes from members, that comes from workers. Having a vote to decide that they feel so strongly about a grievance, a sense of injustice that they feel that course of action is justified and is necessary."

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Media captionBrendan Barber: The government's [spending cut] policy is failing... they have no credible growth strategy

Mr Barber received a standing ovation from delegates at Brighton, where he was addressing his final TUC as general secretary.

He retires at the end of this year and will be replaced by Frances O'Grady, the first woman to fill the role in the organisation's 144-year history.

'Pulling together'

In his speech, Mr Barber said it was wrong of the government to say it "can't pick winners" in helping companies and instead leaving the market to decide.

He added: "Tell that that to Bradley [Wiggins], Jessica [Ennis] or Mo [Farah], all supported by targeted funding.

"Markets always trump planning, they say. Well look at the Olympic Park, the result of years of careful planning and public investment.

"Private is always better than public, they argue. Not true, as we saw all too clearly when it came to Olympic security.

"Those summer weeks were a time when we really were all in it together. Not because we were told to be. But because we wanted to be. Athletes, workers, volunteers, spectators, residents, communities - all pulling together.

"The same spirit we have just seen during the Paralympics. And as we reflect on the wonderful achievements of our disabled athletes, let us not squander the potential of disabled workers."

Mr Barber said that "the central lessons of this summer - that private isn't always best and the market doesn't always deliver - surely need to shape future policy".

He added: "We can't muddle through greening our economy - we need investment, planning and an Olympic-style national crusade. We won't build up industrial strength unless we work out what we do best as a country, whether it's cars, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, or the creative industries, and help them do even better."

He went on to criticise the coalition's spending cuts programme.

Ministers insist the deficit needs to be tackled and that the public purse must be restrained to enable this.

But Mr Barber said: "It's clear that austerity simply isn't working. There has been no growth since the government came to power over two years ago. In effect the economy has become a gigantic laboratory."

Ane he warned of a "self-perpetuating economic nightmare" unless the coalition changes course.

"What we are staring in the face is many years of stagnation. Our own lost decades," he told delegates.

"And it won't be the West London rich who suffer. No, it will be the rest of us.

"The victims of a government that thinks it can buck the central lesson of economic history. That austerity simply begets more austerity."

The Congress will see debates on holding strike action over freezes to public sector wages, with marches planned for October in London, Glasgow and Belfast.

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