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UK’s Largest Unions Threaten ‘Illegal’ Winter Strikes, Labour Refuses to Denounce

Three of the UK’s largest trades unions are threatening a winter of “illegal” strike action if the public sector pay cap is not lifted for the entire sector.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to denounce the threats or clarify if his hard-left leadership would back illegal action. His Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Richard Burgon refused to condemn unions breaking the law five times when asked on BBC Radio 4.

The union bosses leaning towards breaking the law represent more than two million workers and lead the Unite union, the GMB general union, and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), The Times reports.

Their threats come after Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday lifted the one per cent cap for police and prison officers, but insisted the extra wages must come out of existing budgets.

Public sector workers had a pay freeze for two years from 2010, thereafter with pay rises capped at one per cent, as part of the government’s austerity drive.

Prior to 2010, it was widely recognised that public sector workers received more generous pay, benefits, pensions, and holidays than those in the private sector after decades of New Labour rule.

The General Secretary of Unite, the UK’s largest union, Len McCluskey, was asked on Tuesday if he would back illegal strikes. “I will support our members,” he said. “If that means we are outside the law, then so be it.”

Speaking at the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Brighton, he added: “The reality is that the law is wrong and it has to be resisted. I dare say if you’d been interviewing Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi or the suffragettes you’d be telling them that they were breaking the law.”

Tim Roache, General Secretary of the GMB, the UK’s third biggest union, told a TUC fringe meeting: “We are united, whether it takes us into strike action, whether it takes us into unlawful action.”

The General Secretary of the PCS, Mark Serwotka, was a little more ambiguous, saying an illegal strike supported by a tiny minority would be “daft”, but a close ballot would entail “an overwhelmingly moral and just case to say the law is illegitimate”.

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