6 Jun 2011

Vince Cable booed at GMB conference

Business Secretary Vince Cable is booed at the GMB’s annual conference as he warns the Government will clamp down if strikes threaten to affect the economy.

The business secretary Vince Cable who has been booed at the annual conference of the GMB union in Brighton

Despite interruptions by shouts, boos and catcalls from delegates, Dr Cable also warned union members that the Government would take a dim view of excessive industrial action – although he said he could understand their motivation.

“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.

“However, 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.”

‘Productive relationship’

Dr Cable thanked the GMB for inviting him to speak and reminded delegates that an invitation to him from the TUC to address its conference had subsequently been withdrawn: “Perhaps the TUC’s invitation came too soon after the election and feelings among some union leaders were still too raw.

“Whatever the history, I’m really glad I’m here today. I want a mature, productive relationship with trade unions.”

Disputes are always better settled through negotiation with unions, rather than veiled threats Sarah Veale, TUC

But the Business Secretary’s wish was not heeded, as GMB members expressed their anger at the Government’s economic policies by heckling him throughout his speech.

At one point, GMB president Mary Turner had to intervene to ask delegates to listen, saying: “You may not like what you are hearing, any more than I do, but please listen.”

Union reactions

Other unions have been giving their response to the speech. Sarah Veale, the TUC‘s head of equalities and employment rights, said: “The UK already has some of the toughest strike legislation in the developed world so there is no justification for further curbs, as the minister himself acknowledges.

“Restricting the right to withhold labour would also be completely at odds with the coalition’s commitment to civil liberties.

“Disputes are always better settled through negotiation with unions, rather than veiled threats to rig the law in the employer’s favour.”

Meanwhile the Unite union‘s leader Len McCluskey said the minister was targeting workers to deflect attention from the government’s failing economic policies: “It is no coincidence that the Government is engineering this fight now. All eyes have been on our comatose economy and the Government’s colossal failure to address this.

“Talking tough about cracking down on working people is a circus engineered by a Government that is clueless about the real problems facing this country, which is how do we breathe life back into our shops, businesses and high streets and how do we get the millions on the dole back to work?”

Your reaction on Twitter and Facebook to Vince Cable's speech
@Robin T Cox Demonising trades unions is a standard tactic used by the Tories whenever they start losing their grip. Their NHS plans are in tatters, their recovery strategy isn't working, and their foreign policy has got us into yet another war in Libya...
@Stuart Lawler Strikes should be the last resort not the first
@Joe380 Remind you of the '80s
No tightening of Thatcherite strike laws would survive ECHR scrutiny. Does show fear at the heart of govt.
@Siobhan McGrath
What strike laws are left that they can they change?