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Winter of sustained strike action looms in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is facing a winter of discontent with unions threatening widespread strike action which could paralyse public services.

The decision by NIPSA trade union bosses to ballot for industrial action could put the public service workers on a collision course with both Assembly ministers and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Gov- ernment.

The public service union leadership is to ask its 46,000 members to vote in favour of industrial action, including strikes, in the autumn.

If the union members back their bosses the first strike action could be taken as early as September.

Union leaders have also warned that any strike will not be a one-off gesture but a sustained campaign of industrial action.

Any strike could have a major impact on health and education, local government, housing and the civil service.

And last night NIPSA chiefs warned they could be joined in their action by other trade unions frustrated and angry by a series of public service cuts.

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It is understood several teaching unions and the Fire Brigade Union are also considering taking industrial action before the year is out.

NIPSA officials are expected to hold a series of branch meetings this month urging members to vote for industrial action.

NIPSA spokesman Bumper Graham says the proposal for industrial action is unanimously backed by the union's leadership.

He said: "The key issue in this that unites us all is that of public service pensions. People will have to pay more, they will have to work for a longer time and the pension will be worth less in the end. The campaign should start with a public service day of strike action and after that it will have to be sustained."

Mr Graham believes members of the public will support strike action.

He said: "Only when the public see the loss of the public services will they value them."

NIPSA general secretary Brian Campfield believes industrial action could force a government U-turn on public service cuts.

He said: "A united co-ordinated campaign by the trade unions can help galvanise the opposition to the Con-Dem and NI Assembly austerity agenda, it can strengthen the fight against cuts, it can increase the confidence of workers that they have the power in their own hands to make a difference, to force this government to reverse its plans to roll back the advances by the workers over decades of struggle.

"We owe it not only to ourselves but to the generation of young people who will face a life on the dole queue or emigration."

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