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ACTION PACT; Union leaders vow to defy strike laws over cuts: Cabinet close ranks against 'vested interests'.

Byline: Torcuil Crichton

Tory and Lib Dem Cabinet ministers yesterday vowed to stand firm against "vested interests" over their savage public spending cuts.

The move came as their attack on the welfare state was savaged by former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and trade unions warned they would defy anti-strike laws to defend pensions and jobs.

But the Government have agreed to go on the front foot and attack their critics in the weeks ahead of Chancellor George Osborne's October 20 spending review.

Coalition ministers will highlight indicators suggesting the UK is recovering more strongly than other countries to back their argument that they have taken the right action for the long-term future of the economy.

They will challenge lobby groups and those with "vested interests" pleading for special treatment in the spending review.

Ministers also plan to challenge Labour to spell out how they would have implemented the pounds 44billion savings which the party promised in their election manifesto.

But they face a huge fight with the unions.

Emergency Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said his members were prepared to break the ban on taking strike action.

A prison officers' strike would throw the UK's jails into chaos, forcing the Government to draft in emergency workers to maintain order.

Speaking at a TUC fringe meeting, Gillan said: "If the issue is right and you're going to kick us to death, then we will take action irrespective of the legislation. I believe that is eventually going to happen in the whole trade union movement."

RMT general secretary Bob Crow went one further at the same event and urged pensioners to blockade motorways in protest at the Government's spending cuts.

He said old people should "get on to the streets and fight" or crawl into a shell.

Crow added: "If you are a pensioner, if you're someone on benefits, you can crawl into your shell or get on to the streets and fight.

"Pensioners should be able to sit down on the M25 and demonstrate. People should get on the streets and fight."

Meanwhile, the public sector unions, the PCS and Unison, yesterday concluded a deal which would see their 1.7million members go on strike together in opposition to the cuts.

PCS boss Mark Serwotka said co-ordinated industrial action could take place as early as November.

He said: "If George Osborne announces in October that there are going to be cuts to pensions and jobs, the industrial action will have to be very quick."

Earlier, the Lib Dems were left reeling by former leader Kennedy voicing concern over the cuts agenda.

Unease Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Kennedy broke ranks with the Lib Dem leadership ahead of the party's annual conference to warn the coalition not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater".

While Lib Dem ministers put on a united front, Kennedy's call for "enlightened public investment" reflected unease on the party's backbenches at the readiness of the party to sign up to the cuts.

And there were more signs yesterday that there is little public support for the cuts.

In a poll out yesterday, only 22 per cent wanted the deficit to be eliminated by the next election, with 37 per cent backing a more gradual programme of cuts.

And another 37 per cent said keeping unemployment low should take priority over cuts.

Meanwhile, the Police Federation warned that reduced police numbers would be "Christmas for criminals".

CAPTION(S):

STUCK TOGETHER: Chancellor George Osborne, left, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 15, 2010
Words:588
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