UK Politics

Union members back co-ordinated strikes over public sector pay

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Media captionBrendan Barber, TUC: "How long is this misery going to go on?"

The TUC has voted at its annual Congress to support co-ordinated strike action over a public sector pay freeze.

The coalition has frozen public sector pay for three years, calling it vital to help drive down the budget deficit.

Unison boss Dave Prentis said ministers had "declared war on our people" and vowed to lead a "fightback".

Downing Street said it would not reverse the policy while Labour leader Ed Miliband said neither the public nor union members wanted strikes.

The TUC's call comes as members of the National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT teaching union backed a rolling programme of industrial action this autumn in English and Welsh schools.

Unison and the GMB union revealed on Sunday that they were already planning the logistics of strike action if annual talks with ministers on government pay - due to happen early next year - fail.

'Launch pad'

In a speech to delegates earlier on Monday, Mr Prentis said: "Our people face a three-year pay freeze, with living standards slashed while the rich and powerful remain untouched.

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Media captionFrances O'Grady of the TUC: The government's spending cut policy is "clearly just not working"

"It's our job to lead the fightback, to protect our heritage, to defend that fairer society that those who went before us fought for."

He added that the marches and demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Belfast on 20 October had to be a "launch pad for our campaign against austerity".

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, told delegates that a "sense of urgency" was needed.

He said: "The way to really push the government is to follow up the day of demonstration by mass co-ordinated strike action across the public and private sectors."

And Frances O'Grady, the TUC's newly-appointed general secretary, said government spending cuts were "sucking money out of people's pockets".

"Unless we get the economy stimulated again, then we are going to see more unemployment, more hardship and more good businesses go bust," Miss O'Grady - who officially takes over the role at the end of the year - told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

"A lot of people are saying enough is enough, the government must change course."

But Downing Street said the country had to "come together" to deal with the "significant challenges" facing the economy and it had no plans to re-open talks on the pay freeze.

"We have put in place some changes to pensions. We don't intend to reopen those talks. We have put in place a freeze on public sector pay for two years. We don't intend to reopen that decision."

'No alarm'

The BBC's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said there was "no alarm" in government at the prospect of co-ordinated strikes, because there was no guarantee union members would back any action, or that the trade unions would be able to work together effectively.

And Labour leader Ed Miliband, speaking at the TUC annual dinner, said opponents of the government's economic strategy had to think carefully about how to make it change course.

"The public doesn't want to see strikes. Nor do your members. Nor do you," he was expected to say.

"The way to sort out the problems the country faces is for the government to understand why working people are so unhappy. It's because the economic plan is failing, it's unfair."

The issue of pay is set to dominate the TUC Congress.

A further motion, proposed by the Prison Officers' Association and backed by the RMT transport union, calls for moves towards holding a "general strike".

This is scheduled for debate on Tuesday, but this will only take place if "business allows".

'National crusade'

The two teaching unions have said their industrial action, which is short of a full strike, would start on 26 September, and continue until the dispute over pay and pensions is resolved.

In his final speech to the Congress as TUC leader, outgoing general secretary Brendan Barber also called for action to build more council housing and to create new state-owned "regional" banks.

"We need investment, planning and an Olympic-style national crusade," he said.

"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."

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