By Matthew Barrett
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Labour Leader Ed Miliband gave a speech to the TUC Congress this morning. He treated those assembled in the hall to the usual Miliband line about unions – they play a vital role, union members should have a say in the Labour Party, and the government is wrong to try and change their pensions.
However, Mr Miliband ventured into dangerous territory – for a man who was elected by the unions: he questioned the wisdom of strike actions by teachers and civil servants during the summer. He said (video here):
"The Tories have set about reform in completely the wrong way. Even before John Hutton’s report was complete, they announced a 3 per cent surcharge on millions of your members. It was a typically bad move by a bad government trying to pick a fight. So I fully understand why millions of decent public sector workers feel angry. But while negotiations were going on, I do believe it was a mistake for strikes to happen. I continue to believe that."
Boos and heckles, and a visibly annoyed audience followed this section of his speech. Later on, he also 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."
It would be reasonable to assume that the union members in attendance were fired up by Unite leader Len McCluskey's belligerent statements we reported at the weekend:
""My view is that we should rule nothing in and nothing out," he told the newspaper. "Every conceivable form of protest and action should be carefully considered, from civil disobedience through to co-ordinated industrial strikes… Everything should be considered in the face of the type of onslaught that we are looking at.""
As Mr McCluskey implies, the unions are ready for more strikes in the coming months, and their members reject Mr Miliband's notion that strikes, while negotiations are ongoing, are wrong. A perfect demonstration of how out-of-touch some union leaders and members are.