David Cameron meets union leaders in No 10 over cuts

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Union leaders have met David Cameron in Downing Street for the first time to raise their concerns over the coalition government's cuts programme.

The talks came after a call for widespread strikes by the leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey.

After the meeting, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned of a "bleak midwinter" as a result of cuts.

Downing Street said Mr Cameron wanted to have a "constructive dialogue".

Unions are warning that the deficit-reduction plan will cost tens of thousands of jobs in the public and private sectors, but the coalition argues that debt must be cut to stimulate the economy and raise overall levels of employment.

Standing outside 10 Downing Street after the meeting, Mr Barber said: "On the economy, 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."

Unite leader Mr McCluskey, writing in the Guardian, urged Labour leader Ed Miliband to take a stronger line against cuts, arguing: "'Fewer cuts later on', is not a slogan to set the blood coursing."

But a spokesman for Mr Miliband said: "Ed warned about using overblown rhetoric about strikes in his conference speech and this is a case in point.

"The language and tone of Len McCLuskey's comments are wrong and unhelpful and Ed Miliband will be making that clear when he meets him in the near future."

Mr Cameron's spokesman said the Downing Street meeting was "part of the dialogue we want to have" with unions.

The spokesman also said: "Obviously, we don't want to see co-ordinated strike action. We actually want to engage in a constructive dialogue with the unions and today's meeting is part of that.

"We obviously have a different view and it is important that we make our case to them."

The government has no plans for changes to union legislation, he added.

But Rail Maritime and Transport union general secretary Bob Crow said: "Len McCluskey is spot on. We need co-ordinated action, and a social and political movement that mirrors the anti-poll tax campaign if we are to turn the tide on the fiscal fascism of this ConDem government."

He added: "It is clear that the government strategy is to hit early and we need a rapid response across the trade union movement to stop them dead in their tracks.

"Industrial action, civil disobedience and millions on the streets are all elements that we need to weld into the anti-cuts campaign and the government should be left in no doubt as to the angry and determined mood brewing up across the country."