LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) - Trade unions across Europe could take coordinated action if governments persist with slashing public services, the leader of Britain’s biggest public sector union said on Monday.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the 1.4-million-member Unison, told Reuters in an interview that more than four million workers may take part in strikes and rallies against public sector pension reforms on November 30 and further industrial action could follow.
Trade unions are flexing their muscles over cuts in public services driven through by the coalition government to curb a budget deficit of around 10 percent of economic output.
Prentis said the cuts were having “disastrous effects” on communities and could lead to one million job losses in the public and private sectors.
Prentis said he was working closely with a number of unions elsewhere in Europe, where many governments are taking austerity measures as they wrestle with an economic slowdown or debt crises.
“We are already coordinating demonstrations ... and I’m sure that there will become a stage, if this continues and if the economy does get worse, that we could well see coordinated action across Europe,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of a conference of the Labour Party.
Prentis said he had held a meeting this week with CGIL, Italy’s biggest trade union, about how they could cooperate.
“We have a joint membership arrangement with one of the biggest unions in Europe, ver.di in Germany, and we are developing that relationship,” he said.
Prentis’s union will be a key player in nationwide strikes and rallies planned for November 30 over the Conservative-led coalition’s plans to shake up public sector pensions.
Ministers say pensions are no longer affordable as people are living longer, and the government is seeking to raise contributions by 3 percent from April next year to save more than 1 billion pounds in 2012-2013.
Unions say the rises amount to an unfair tax on workers at a time of pay freezes and job losses across the public sector.
Unemployment rose at its fastest rate in two years in the three months to July, fanning fears over an economy that is scarcely growing.
The government has urged the unions not to strike over the issue, but Prentis says eight months of talks with the government have got nowhere.
Unison and other public sector unions are balloting their members for strike action on November 30 but it will be three or four more weeks before the results are known.
Unison is also asking its members for authority to take further industrial action after November 30 if necessary, Prentis said.
“It could be further days of strike action, it could be regional action, it could be small groups within an employer ... We want a negotiated settlement (but) if we’ve got nobody to negotiate with, then we will move to that sustained industrial action,” he said.
He said there could be room for compromise on the pensions issue, but the government needed to provide a lot more information. He saw no chance of a settlement that could avert the November 30 strike “unless the coalition moves towards us.”
Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party which relies on the unions for financial support, upset trade unionists by criticising a June strike against the pension reforms while negotiations were still going on.
Prentis made clear he expected Miliband to support public sector workers if they strike on November 30.
“If Labour does not reach out to them, they will not vote Labour at the next election,” he warned.
Editing by Robert Woodward