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Labour Conference to agree Balls line on strikes

There is little doubt that Labour Party conference will agree to back the line argued by Ed Balls on the public sector pension strikes – representing the union case as reasonable and pinning al the blame on the government for the threat of strike acton. The clear implication is that, if strikes happen because of government intransigence, you can’t pin the blame on the unions. The decision will be based on the motion from the public sector union Unison which reads as follows:

Public service workers have suffered an ongoing pay freeze, widespread redundancies and cuts and closures of many vital services our communities rely on. Hard pressed families, young people and the disadvantaged being hardest hit. Now the Government has launched an unprecedented attack on public service pensions. This is not only an injustice but could undermine the viability of some pension schemes.

Current Government proposals are not a genuine attempt to make the schemes more sustainable, they are a cash grab by the Treasury, imposing an additional tax on workers already facing a pay freeze. The increased contributions are not being used to strengthen the schemes but are going to the Treasury to pay debts caused by the banking crisis.

Despite lengthy negotiations the Government has refused to listen or move leading to union members being balloted on taking strike action as a last resort to show their opposition.

Conference notes that the trade unions and community groups have agreed to organise local and national protests in support of public services, jobs and pensions. Conference encourages Labour members to support these protests against the attack on public services and public service workers that will damage communities and social cohesion.

Conference also calls on the shadow cabinet to press the Government to have meaningful negotiations on pensions to reach an agreement and avoid more strikes.

We mustn’t forget that this is an issue which is winnable amongst the public. There is already onsiderable public support according to UK Polling Report‘s analysis, and even Tory commentators like Danny Finkelstein (£) are worried about losing the public debate:

There is, I think, a broad assumption that the unions are on a hiding to nothing with the strikes they are about to launch and that the Government is on to a winner. I think things are much more finely balanced. I think the Government could easily be the big political loser.

Ed Balls said of the unions last week on Newsnight:

It’s their right to ballot their members but nobody wants a strike. If in the end though there are men and women in their 50s who feel even though their pensions are low that they’re going to told to pay more and work longer for less money of course they’re going to be upset but the government can sort this out. George Osborne and the unions can sort this out if they want in a fair way. The government has got a big responsibility here….

We don’t want strikes. They’re a last resort. We want talks and a fair deal on pensions. But what George Osborne wants to do is blame a flat lining economy and rising unemployment on the trade unions. It is his decisions which are getting us into this mess, not the trade unions.

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