Looming autumn of discontent

On the same day that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have written a letter to the cabinet reminding them that deficit reduction remains the most urgent issue facing Britain, union bosses have unveiled their plans for an autumn of discontent.

There will be a campaign for national strikes over cuts to spending, pay and pensions. The campaign begins with a national day of action on October 20, which surprise surprise, is the same day George Osborne will announce £83 billion cuts to public spending. This will be followed by a series of strike days throughout the autumn by all the UK major unions.

The Public and Commercial Services unions (PCS), Unison, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have ALL tabled resolutions for next month’s TUC conference in Manchester calling for co-ordinated action. That coalition of unions has grown since the general election, when only the NUT and PCS agreed to joint industrial action. Presumably the unions did not want to be outdone by the coalition government, joining forces to push through essential cuts, and felt safer striking against cuts in greater numbers.

It could be a clever move by the unions because now an even bigger proportion of the public sector can hold Britain to ransom. A briefing paper by the unions reported in The Times today said “In this period we need to focus on mobilising opposition to the cuts through convincing members and the public that cuts in public expenditure are neither inevitable or necessary”.

But the government is spending £5 for every £4 it raises in taxation, spending cuts are therefore absolutely necessary.  The fiscal crisis is the result of sharp hikes in spending over the last decade, and taxpayers are already facing high tax rates.  There is no way that ordinary families struggling following the recession will support this kind of irresponsible action by the unions. Even polling for the website Left Foot Forward has shown that the public oppose more influence for the trade unions. And it seems likely that the public will turn against their attempts to entrench unaffordable privileges and their own power.

It will be down to the politicians to face down the unions and make it very clear that these strikes are futile.

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