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Summer of discontent: Strikers threaten mountains of rubbish and chaos at airports!!


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Summer of discontent: Strikers threaten mountains of rubbish and chaos at airports


By James Chapman

Last updated at 7:54 AM on 24th June 2008


Council workers are threatening a summer of strikes that will leave rubbish uncollected and schools shut.

Their first action is likely to be a two-day stoppage next month that will see 800,000 staff - from binmen to classroom assistants - called out.

It could be the first in a wave of industrial action across the public sector by workers angry that the Government is imposing below-inflation pay rises.


article-1028745-01B824F700000578-566_468x303.jpg Mountains of rubbish bags in Leicester Square in central London, due to a strike by council manual workers in the summer of 2002

Nearly 300,000 civil servants are to be balloted soon by the PCS union. Any action would hit airports, ports, benefit and tax offices, courts and museums.

Probation officers, meat and hygiene inspectors and some other education workers are also in disputes over pay.

On top of that, staff across the NHS are threatening to re-open a recent pay deal if inflation continues to soar.

As unions tighten their grip on a cash-strapped Labour Party, the stoppages will be a major test for Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling, who have called for pay restraint from the 'boardroom to the shopfloor' to rein in inflation.

The industrial temperature was turned up today when Unison members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent to strike after rejecting a 2.45 per cent offer.

article-1028745-0481C83B0000044D-216_233x423.jpg UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said the vote was a 'clear message'


Unions have been encouraged by the 14 per cent pay rise won by fuel tanker drivers after a strike last week.

And Unison boss Dave Prentis is warning that public sector workers will bring down the Government at the next election if disputes over pay are not resolved.

Mr Prentis said today's vote was 'a clear message' that his members would 'fight for a decent pay rise'.

'Our members don't want Gordon Brown to feel their pain - they want him to stand up and heal their pain, to give them fair pay increases,' he said.

Staff were 'fed up and angry they are expected to accept pay cut after pay cut while bread and butter prices go through the roof', he said.

'Most of them are low-paid workers, who are hit hardest by food and fuel price hikes, and they see the unfairness of boardroom bonanzas and big City bonuses.'

The union represents one in three council workers, including thousands of bin men, school dinner ladies, social workers, housing benefit staff, classroom assistants, cooks, cleaners and architects.

They want a pay rise of 6 per cent - or 50p an hour, whichever is greater.

But the legitimacy of the strike vote was immediately called into question by the employers.

They said that turnout in the ballot was only 27 per cent. With 55 per cent of those voting to strike, it means just 15 per cent of all Unison's members have actively backed taking action.


Enlarge article-1028745-01B824A300000578-736_468x248.jpg


Heather Wakefield, Unison's head of local government, said: 'We are proposing an initial two days of all out strike action in July and then we will see where we go from here.

'Everything from local government will stop. We are talking about bins, schools,

council offices, environmental health inspectors - all those important services that local communities rely on.

'We think they deserve to be paid at least in line with inflation for doing that.'







Unison said 250,000 council staff, most of them women, earn less than £6.50 an hour.

The last comparable strike in local government was in March 2006, when a million workers turned out to support a campaign over pension rights.

Tory leader David Cameron warned of a 'wave' of public sector strikes and said he feared Labour's almost total reliance on funding from the unions could prevent them acting to stop demands for higher pay.

'I certainly hope there won't be a series of strikes. Strikes very rarely achieve their goals,' he said.

'I think we have a problem in this country in that the Government, the governing party, is now so reliant on trade union income that I fear the trade unions feel they have got a bit of a stranglehold over the Government and are able to dictate terms.

'I think the Government is going to have to be extremely tough about this to make sure we don't have a wave of public strikes.'


article-1028745-043EFDEF0000044D-567_468x308.jpg Strikes: Today's vote heralds the start of industrial action over the summer and a repeat of the walkouts in 2006, pictured above

Eric Pickles, Tory local government spokesman, said; 'At a time when council tax bills have gone through the roof under Labour, pay restraint is needed to control further hikes in local taxes.

'I am very concerned at the rubbish piling up uncollected in the summer months, especially in areas where the Government has already bullied councils into axing weekly collections.

'The country faces a summer of strikes and cuts to local services.'

Downing Street said the Prime Minister was 'disappointed' with the strike vote .

Mr Brown's spokesman said: 'This is really something for local government and the trade unions, but we are disappointed that Unison has decided to take this action.'

Brian Baldwin, representing the local government employers, questioned the union's mandate for action because of the 27 per cent turnout.

He added: 'Any strike action Unison calls could have serious implications for some of the most vulnerable people in society and would not change the fact that our last offer was our final offer.

'The settlement on the table was affordable both to the taxpayer and councils while at the same time made sure that local government continued to be an attractive place to work.

'If the pay settlement is set any higher, then councils will be forced into making unpalatable choices between cutting front line services and laying off staff.'

David Frost, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: 'Striking in the current economic climate will only lead to worsening inflationary pressures.

'Furthermore, the public finances are not strong enough to dish out any extra pay without further taxation to fund it.'

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