UK Politics

Labour must back strikes over pensions - Prentis

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Media captionDave Prentis said Labour must stand shoulder to shoulder with workers

The leader of the UK's biggest public sector union has said its members will "never forgive" Labour if it fails to back them in their fight over pensions.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, told Labour's conference that workers expected leader Ed Miliband to support them if they decide to strike.

Earlier, shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain said Labour was proud of its union ties and wanted to strengthen them.

But Mr Miliband has so far chosen to not to back industrial action.

The government's pension proposals will see public sector staff paying more and working longer for lower payouts in retirement.

The TUC has called a day of action on 30 November over the plans, pledging the biggest day of union mobilisation in a generation.

Ministers have criticised unions for staging walk-outs when negotiations are still ongoing and argue that changes to pensions are vital to make them more affordable at a time when life expectancy is rising.

'Shoulder to shoulder'

Unison, which represents 1.3 million people working for the NHS, local authorities, colleges and the police, has balloted its members for strike action on 30 November.

So too have the two other biggest public sector unions, the GMB and Unite.

To loud cheers from Labour delegates in Liverpool, Mr Prentis said he want to make it "very, very clear" to the party's leaders what he wanted from them.

"If we do vote for strike action - a hard decision, always a last resort - millions of public sector workers and our union will expect your support.

"They look to Labour to stand shoulder to shoulder with them," he said.

"They will never forgive us if we let them down and neither will their union."

Mr Prentis said his members were not "militants" but they could not sit by while their livelihoods were under threat, adding: "Sometimes you have to remind people what you are worth.

"The campaigns we are fighting are not just about jobs or pensions, they are about creating the type of society we for our children. Our members have not given up the fight and nor must our party."

Earlier, at a fringe meeting organised by teaching union the NASUWT, Mr Hain insisted: "I am proud of our trade union links, as is Ed - indeed we want to strengthen them.

"Our problem is not that we have the trade union link, it's that it has ceased to be as dynamic and alive as it once was."

'Celebrate its roots'

He added: "I don't apologise for our trade union links and I don't understand or really in any sense recognise the caricature of the relationship with the party that is often portrayed in the media that it's about being dictated to by trade union representatives."

Mr Hain was responding to a call by NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates for Labour to "celebrate its roots in the trade union movement, not distance itself from them".

She added: "We want a partnership with the Labour Party, but it can't be a partnership at any price.

"One of the key issues is around the privatisation of our public services, where we have got to get a common message, common goals and common values."

Mr Miliband was heckled at the TUC conference earlier this month over his refusal to endorse strike action.

He told delegates he understood their anger but insisted it was a "mistake" to strike while talks are going on. Union leaders say the discussions are not meaningful.