Cable warns restive unions of fresh laws against strikes
By Nigel Morris
Union chiefs will be warned by a cabinet minister today that a concerted programme of industrial action against the Government’s austerity measures could result in anti-strike laws.
Up to one million workers are expected to walk out on 30 June in protest against the spending cuts, and further shows of union strength are planned for the autumn.
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, will tell a union conference that such moves could backfire by playing into the hands of senior Tories pressing for fresh controls on industrial action.
Speaking at the conference of the GMB union in Brighton, he will acknowledge that “feelings are running high” in the union movement, but call for “cool heads” on all sides.
He will say: “The usual suspects will call for general strikes and widespread disruption. This will excite the usual media comments about ‘a summer’ or ‘an autumn’ of discontent. And another group of the usual suspects will exploit the situation to call for the tightening of strike law.
“We are undoubtedly entering a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector. On that basis, and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not compelling.”
But he will add: “Should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act would ratchet up. That is something which both you, and certainly I, would wish to avoid.”
The austerity package came under pressure on a second front yesterday as more than 50 mainly left-leaning economists and academics told the Chancellor, George Osborne, that he “urgently needs to adopt a Plan B” to stop the tentative recovery from being choked off.
Ministers insisted there was no alternative to the bitter medicine being administered to tackle Britain’s record budget deficit. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said: “It is vital to continue the course we have started.”