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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Graham Hiscott

Strike summit blasts government 'picking fight with unions' to hide economic failures

The Government is “picking a fight with unions” to try to hide its own economic failures, a Daily Mirror summit heard.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, claimed the Tories were opposing pay demands from workers because they have “messed up.”

She told the Mirror’s strike summit: “I have a strong suspicion that if you wanted to run down our NHS, our education system, our public services this is the way to go about it.”

She claimed, in some cases, the government had actively blocked pay deals being done.

“They don’t want us talking about the root cause of this,” she went on.

The Mirror's Alison Phillips and Kevin Maguire with Union bosses (Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

“They don’t want us talking about the mess they have made of the economy.

“They have messed up big time and they are picking a fight with us to distract from the fact that they are useless.”

Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, agreed, saying: “It has to be deliberate.”

Both were among seven of Britain’s most powerful trade unionists who came together for the summit to discuss the reasons behind the biggest wave of industrial action since the late 1980s.

It came as the start of a major ramping-up of strike action, with train services brought to a near standstill by the start of another 48 hour stoppage by members of the RMT union.

The Mirror tonight hosted a meeting of union leaders (Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

Other strikes in the coming days include up to 100,000 nurses, traffic officers at National Highways, examiners at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, security staff at Eurostar and bus drivers.

Analysis by the TUC shows 2022 is set to be the worst year for real wage growth in nearly half a century.

Also at yesterday’s summit were Mick Lynch, leader of the RMT, Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers union Aslef, Jo Grady, head of the University and College Union, Pat Cullen on the Royal College of Nursing, and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

Mr Lynch, whose union has another series of strikes planned later this week and over Christmas, vowed: “We will see this through to the end.”

(Left to right) Pat Cullen, General Secretary & Chief Executive RCN with Frances O'Grady TUC and Mick Lynch RMT (Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

He went further, accusing Transport Secretary Mark Harper of lying in public.

“They are incompetent and they are telling lies,” he told the summit.

Mr Whelan echoed others by claiming the Tories’ fight with unions was “ideological.”

Sharon Graham said: “People are sick and tired of being conned.”

The summit also heard criticism of claims by government and private sector employers that there was not the money for proper pay rises.

Sharon Graham of Unite with Mick Whelan Secretary-General of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and Kevin Maguire from the Daily Mirror (Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

Jo Grady said universities, for example, had £40billion in reserves.

Ms Graham said the same, pointing to soaring profit margins in Britain’s 350 biggest firms.

Mr Courtney said teachers had endured a 24% real terms cut in pay since the Tories came to power in 2010 because wages have failed to keep pace with inflation.

Ms O’Grady said support among workers for industrial action was growing all the time.

“I have never seen such determination from workers,” she went on.

The Union bosses sat down with the Mirror at our Canary Wharf home (Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

“I have never seen so many working people backing each other.”

The summit also included pressure on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to be “more vocal” when it came to the strikes.

Earlier, Mick Lynch accused the BBC of being biased in its coverage of the rail strikes and “parroting” the right wing press.

He also clashed with Good Morning Britain host Richard Madeley.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of National Education, during the debate (Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

New figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there were 417,000 working days lost because of labour disputes in October - the highest since November 2011.

The plea for better pay came as official figures revealed the scale of the real terms wage cut being endured by millions of workers - with those in the public sector among those suffering the most.

According to the Office for National Statistics, average wage growth stood at 6.1% between August and October.

But that masked an average 6.9% rise for those in the private sector, and just 2.7% increase for public sector workers.

With inflation running at a 40-year high of around 11%, that means most workers are much worse off in real terms.

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