British Labour leader says pensions strikes were mistake

13th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party was heckled by trade union delegates on Tuesday as he condemned strikes over pensions reform and urged them to hold off from any further industrial action.

Ed Miliband told the annual Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference it had been a "mistake" for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers to walk out on June 30 over plans to make them work longer and pay more into their pensions.

He accused Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led government of failing to negotiate on the reforms in good faith, but urged union leaders not to follow through on threats to hold more strikes later this year.

"I fully understand why millions of decent public sector workers are angry. But while negotiations were going on, I do believe it was a mistake for strikes to happen last summer," Miliband said, sparking angry shouts from the floor.

"And I continue to believe that. But what we need now is meaningful negotiation to prevent further confrontation over the autumn."

He added that unions risked losing their relevance if they opposed changes needed to restore economic growth following a long and deep recession.

"Unions can offer businesses the prospect of better management, better relationships. As you did during the recession," he said.

"Of course the right to industrial action will be necessary, as a last resort. But in truth, strikes are always the consequence of failure. Failure on all sides. Failure we cannot afford as a nation."

Miliband was elected Labour leader one year ago with the support of the trade unions, beating his elder brother David, but has since distanced himself from the union movement despite its key role in funding his party.

In a move likely to cause confrontation, he has recently indicated he wants to cut the union's 50 percent block vote at Labour's annual party conference.

But he stressed Tuesday that Labour's ties to the unions were unshakeable.

"Of course, there are times when you and I will disagree. You will speak your mind. And so will I. But our link is secure enough, mature enough, to deal with disagreement," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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