Trade union leaders warned David Cameron today that the Coalition Government’s deep spending cuts would be damaging, dangerous and would hit the poor hardest.
At the first meeting between a Conservative Prime Minister and the Trade Union Congress for 25 years, Mr Cameron promised to order Cabinet ministers to ensure a “constructive dialogue” with unions in their areas of responsibility. But there was no meeting of minds on the central issue of the economy.
Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said after the hour-long session in the Cabinet Room: “We emphasised the fundamental disagreement we have with the Government's decision to focus on reducing the deficit. We told him [Mr Cameron] in pretty stark terms that this will have hugely negative consequences for the future of our public services and the fabric of our society and on jobs."
Warning of a “bleak midwinter" as a result of the deficit reduction plans, Mr Barber said: “We warned the Prime Minister that next year promises to be even bleaker for millions of families and their communities as the spending cuts bite hard and hit jobs and services.”
Over coffee and mince pies, the 15-strong union delegation urged Mr Cameron do more to raise more money from the banks. Mr Barber said there were "useful discussions" on green growth and jobs, manufacturing and equality, and welcomed Mr Cameron's intention to "continue this dialogue" on issues such as public sector pensions and Royal Mail privatisation.
Mr Cameron insisted that the controversial decision to link benefits and public sector pensions to the consumer price index, which is normally about 1 per cent lower than rather than the retail price index, was not up for negotiation.
Downing Street described the meeting as “business-like”. Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: “There are issues where it clearly makes sense to have a dialogue with the unions, for example on what we are doing on skills and promoting growth and what we are doing regionally to promote growth. This was a meeting that they asked for. The discussion was about the economy and public services."
The TUC has not endorsed calls by some union leaders for co-ordinated industrial action against the cuts but is organising a major demonstration next March. A spokesman for Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, dismissed the calls for strikes as “overblown rhetoric...wrong and unhelpful.”