Winter of discontent as synchronised strikes threaten to bring Britain to its knees


    Trade union leaders are warning of a wave of co-ordinated strikes this winter which threaten to bring Britain to its knees. The warning comes as trade unionists are meeting for the annual Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference in Brighton, which opened today.

    Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, which represents 150,000 civil servants, said it stood ready to down tools on the same day as others if industrial action went ahead.

    He said: “If we win those ballots, we stand prepared to take action on the same day as any other union to show the government we strike together.”

    Mr Serwotka was one of a number of trade union chiefs who warned of synchronised strikes this winter in a bid to win pay disputes by causing maximum chaos. However they stopped short at calling for a general strike. 

    Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, which is balloting 400,000 health workers, said: “Coordinated action unites us and we have a single goal: end this pay crisis in this country.”

    Andy Kerr, the deputy general secretary of the CWU, the postal workers’ union, said he supported “coordinated industrial action to defend ourselves”.

    But there are tensions between some trade unions, who want to go further with coordinated action, and the TUC, which represents them.

    Mick Lynch, RMT leader, told a fringe meeting: “We need an uprising. We need a whole wave of synchronised, coordinated action. I don’t care what it’s called.

    “I don’t care if Paul Nowak or Frances [O’Grady, the incoming and outgoing general secretaries of the TUC] are the ones that coordinate it as long as they don’t get in the way – we can get on with it ourselves, frankly.”

    TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told the Guardian: “We’ve had a number of meetings already. Obviously in [some] sectors it can make particular sense to synchronise days and timing.

    “In other areas, what I see is clearly a wave of action happening, and you can have sensible discussions about what’s more industrially effective. Synchronisation can be. Sometimes, actually, it’s better not to have everything on the same day.”

    It comes as headteachers are set to be balloted on industrial action in a row over pay and funding.

    General secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Paul Whiteman told the TUC conference that he has “never heard more anger and despair” from school leaders.

    He said headteachers have lost around 24 percent on the value of their salary since 2010, adding that he has written to Education Secretary Kit Malthouse about the ballot.

    Meanwhile, coffinmakers at the Co-op’s only manufacturing facility in the UK will bring production to a “complete stop” with strike action in a row over pay.

    About 50 workers at the factory based at Bogmoor Place, Glasgow, have rejected a pay offer which their union, Unite, said is a “real-terms” pay cut.

    Employees will walk out from October 31 every day until November 7 when action will conclude.

    It comes as rail workers have brought the network to a standstill with a series of strikes over pay and conditions.

    The RMT union is voting on whether to continue action for a further six months.


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