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Cuts will make UK a 'darker, brutish' place

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 September 2010

Britain will become a "darker, brutish and more frightening place" as the government's sweeping spending cuts take effect, the TUC leader Brendan Barber has warned.

Protesters against coalition cuts outside TUC conference (Reuters)

Speaking at the Trades Union Congress's (TUC's) annual conference in Manchester, Mr Barber said the government's pledge to implement the cuts in a progressive way was "insulting claptrap".

Instead he claimed it would "not only devastate the services we rely on, but do untold damage to our economic prospects".

Mr Barber said the coalition government is more like a "demolition government", whose current austerity drive will damage public services and cost huge numbers of jobs.

He accused ministers of breaking their promise to protect society's most vulnerable people and protect frontline services, listing a whole range of programmes destined to be slashed, from support for children with learning difficulties and free school meals, to social housing building programmes and domestic violence protection orders.

"Every public service in every community is under threat. Think about what's happening here in Manchester, projects to rebuild 10,000 homes in run-down areas axed, £560m of transport schemes scrapped, sweeping cuts at Bolton, Salford, Trafford and Rochdale councils, 150 firefighter jobs at risk in Greater Manchester Fire Service, £7m of cuts in the police force, up to 1,000 NHS admin jobs in danger and a local breast cancer helpline, that has taken 80,000 calls since it was set up, about to be closed, because health trusts will no longer foot the £63,000 annual running cost," he said.

And he insisted the unions were not relishing the idea of confrontation: "I take no pleasure in looking ahead to the prospect of difficult dispute... no-one takes industrial action lightly. We are at the heart of our communities, passionately concerned to defend the integrity and the quality of the services we provide."

Joint industrial action
Later today, delegates will be asked to support a motion, backed by most of the country's biggest unions, calling for joint campaigning and industrial action against the cuts.

Strikes are already being threatened by a number of unions, including those representing British Airways cabin crew, Royal Mail staff, and a number of public sector employees.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union wants to go still further, demanding a campaign of "civil disobedience". But that has been firmly rejected by Brendan Barber, who said the idea would be "counter productive".

He admitted to delegates that the general public had not yet turned against the austerity measures, but he was confident they could be convinced.

Unions claim that 150,000 public sector jobs have already been axed or are at risk, with more public services under threat. Research commissioned by the TUC says the poorest 10 per cent of society will suffer fhe most.

Unison's general secretary Dave Pretnis said the Government was out to push privatisation and protect the wealthy: "If money is tight, never mind a pay freeze for our members, how about a pay freeze for bankers? We've had enough of their greed and arrogance. It's them, not our members, who should be doing more for less." Another public sector union boss, the PCS leader Mark Serwotka, agreed: the real scroungers, he said, were the rich people who avoided paying their taxes.

And the GMB's Brian Strutton claimed a million people could lose their jobs. He said the Government was in denial about the fact that public spending saved the economy from collapse during the banking crisis.

The politics
The Chancellor George Osborne is due to reveal the extent of the cuts later next month. But as yet the government is trying to be conciliatory: Cabinet office minister Francis Maude said he wanted a genuine partnership with the unions and was not trying to provoke a "stand off".

He said: "I want there to be a genuine partnership with the trade unions. They have an absolutely legitimate stake in what the Government is going to do and we will listen very carefully to what they say and the arguments they make. There is no question about that.

"We are not going back to the days where there was a complete stand-off between the trade unions and the Government. Those days are gone."

Downing Street emphasised the desire of the coalition to work with the unions.

"We want there to be a genuine partnership with the trade unions," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

"We need to deal with the deficit, we want to work with everyone in tackling that."

But Mr Barber said where his members jobs, pay or pensions were at risk, the TUC will take action. "They will have the support of their unions", he said, "and the TUC stands ready to co-ordinate that".

Caretaker Labour leader Harriet Harman also questioned the coalition's spending cuts: "Already Labour is responding to people's concerns about jobs and public services and mobilising against Tory/Lib Dem decisions which will harm this country.

"How does axing 700 school building projects help the construction industry get back on its feet? How does scrapping the future jobs fund help young people get into work? Yes the deficit must be reduced and we had a robust plan to do that, but their budget threatens the fragile economic recovery.

"Their plans are not driven by economics. They are driven by ideology. The Tory hostility to the role of government, but the reality is you do not get borrowing down by pulling the plug on government support for business. You do not get borrowing down by throwing people out of work. You do not get borrowing down by stifling economic growth and you should not get borrowing down by hitting the most vulnerable."

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