Union leaders have upped the stakes ahead of this afternoon’s crunch talks with the Government over public sector pensions by warning of the worst strikes since the Second World War without concessions.
Speaking to The Huffington Post, PCS leader Mark Serwotka said without a breakthrough, unions would move to organise a coordinated strike in October.
“It will be the biggest outbreak of coordinated strikes across the country since the Second World War. The number of unions and members striking could potentially be millions.”
Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Kevin Courtney, also said the talks could lead to further industrial action.
He told The Huffington Post: “The Government, following the strikes [last Thursday], has to realise they have to shift position.
“They can’t just talk about implementing the changes they want; they have to talk about whether the changes happen at all.”
Courtney added he believed the Government were in a “dangerous” position, having “lost the support of the entire teaching profession.”
Mark Serwotka, whose union represents nearly 300,000 public sector workers, said he didn’t expect the Government to offer any compromises in today’s crunch talks, despite last week’s strikes by civil servants, teachers and lecturers.
“The government have upped the stakes. Do I think there will be a breakthrough on Wednesday? Absolutely not.
“Whilst we’re talking to them, we are assuming the worst so we’re also talking to other unions about a much bigger strike next year.”
Serwotka added the talks had to be seen in the context of last Wednesday’s strikes, which he claimed were their “best ever supported” and “fantastically visible” despite the Cabinet Office showing only 42% of PCS members were striking.
“Over 100,000 people marched across the UK. They were very, very well supported. What it achieved was what we wanted. It put it in the public consciousness. Pensions became the public debate.
“And what it exposed was that the government’s in some disarray. They claimed pensions were unaffordable when independent bodies showed it simply wasn’t the case.”
But the PCS leader said the Government may seek to “cause disunity” in the unions by offering compromises on pensions to some public sector workers, such as those working in local government.
The leader of the civil service union argued that the Government’s ideology was driving cuts, and hit out at the lead negotiators, Danny Alexander and Francis Maude, claiming “they haven’t got a clue.”
“In the longer term we suspect the real motive is to drive down the value [of pension schemes] so much that it makes privation of the public sector more attractive.”
But despite the warnings of huge strikes in October, Serwotka said he believed the public would take the side of the unions.
“I think the support we had last week was unprecedented. That would never have happened in normal times. Now we have the biggest cuts in the public sector that we have ever seen and it’s affecting everyone.”
However he denied he unions were returning to the language and rhetoric used in the 1970s.
“It’s not about ‘who runs Britain’ it’s about trying to protect communicates and stop the government carrying out cuts that they have no mandate to do. “
Kevin Courtney of the NUT also said he didn’t believe strikes would alienate the public.
“I think it’s possible for industrial action to lose public support. I don’t think that’s happening to us now.”
Courtney also denied the unions were using militant language.
“I want to talk about uniting the teaching profession and being determined to get some changes. That might mean further industrial action if the government doesn’t move but it will also mean other steps.”
However the rhetoric of union bosses has been criticised by Conservative MP Dominic Raab, who has previously called for a mandatory threshold of 50% of union members to support strikes for ballots to be passed.
"A handfull of militant union bosses pulled their membership into a round of strikes the majority of members did not back and the public opposed. They're weaker as a result. Union leaders now need to pull their heads out of the sand, and a face up to the economic realities everyone else is going through."