British unions predict coordinated strikes against cuts

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Some of Britain's biggest trade unions urged strike action Sunday against public spending cuts designed to tackle a record deficit, as activists gathered for their annual congress.

Mark Serwotka, head of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents over 300,000 people, predicted a "campaign of resistance the like of which has not been seen for decades".

"Our aspiration is to have hundreds of thousands of people marching," he said, adding: "I personally think industrial action is inevitable on a large scale unless the government changes direction."

He was speaking ahead of the start Monday of the four-day Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Manchester, northern England, which is likely to be dominated by debate over how to respond to swingeing cuts proposed by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government.

Meanwhile, Bob Crow of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) whose union represents nearly 80,000 people, urged a peaceful campaign of "civil disobedience".

This could even involve activists dressed as "Batman climbing up Number 10 (Downing Street) to Spiderman going up Buckingham Palace," he said.

However, the head of the TUC, the umbrella group for unions, played down the prospect of mass strikes, instead advocating a national coalition of unions and the public to make the case against the cuts.

"My ambition is not to rerun whatever happened in the 1970s or 1980s," Brendan Barber said, referring to a peak period of strike action in Britain, part of which was under former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, another Tory.

"I am confident that we can draw together a very powerful and very effective campaign," Barber added.

Ministers will give full details on how they intend to reduce borrowing -- forecast to hit 149 billion pounds (180 billion euros, 230 billion dollars) in the year to March 2011 -- in a spending review on October 20.

© 2010 AFP

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