MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - The coalition government’s plans to slash public spending will leave Britain a “darker, brutish, more frightening place”, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said on Monday.
The impact of Ireland’s austerity measures should also be a warning to the government that cutting jobs and services risks threatening Britain’s economic recovery, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told delegates at their annual gathering.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition plans to reduce spending in most departments by a quarter as it tackles a budget deficit totalling 11 percent of national output, a pledge that has prompted strong opposition from trade unions.
“Decent public services are the glue that holds a civilised society together, and we diminish them at our peril,” said Barber, whose union umbrella group represents 6.5 million workers, many of them in the public sector.
“Cut services, put jobs in peril, and increase inequality - that is the way to make Britain a darker, brutish, more frightening place,” he added, warning it could take generations to rebuild from the effects of the cuts.
The government said it wanted “a genuine partnership” with the trade unions.
“The issue of the deficit is one that has to be tackled and the government has set out its approach on that and its view that should be predominantly be tackled through spending reductions,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said.
“But we want to work with the trade unions on this issue.”
Although Ireland won plaudits for moving quickly to tackle its deficit through swingeing cuts, it has been hit by a series of credit rating downgrades as a steadily rising bill for bailing out nationalised lender Anglo Irish Bank threatens to eclipse its fiscal achievements.
“They have made huge cuts, and yet the economic slowdown has been so great that their credit rating has been downgraded time and time again,” Barber said.
The issue of how best to thwart the government’s austerity plans is set to dominate the congress meeting in Manchester this week, with unions vowing to take coordinated industrial action where necessary to defend jobs and services.
Unions favour investing in jobs and supporting economic recovery as an alternative path to reducing the deficit, and have launched a political campaign to mobilise public support for their fight against the cuts.
“We will move to coordinate industrial action to defend all we hold dear, all the past generations have fought for,” said Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, Britain’s biggest public sector union.
“We have to rise to the challenge, show our resolve ... build a powerful coalition of our own.”
Additional reporting by Tim Castle; editing by Keith Weir