Militants face threat of anti-strike laws as union boss tell members 'prepare for battle'

David Cameron is being urged to draw up plans for emergency anti-strike laws to prevent militant trade unions holding Britain to ransom.

It comes after the leader of Britain’s biggest union told his members to ‘prepare for battle’.

Len McCluskey, new general secretary of Unite, threatened a co-ordinated wave of strikes next year against what he called ‘the Cameron-Clegg class war austerity’.

Prime Minister David Cameron
Boris Johnson

Battle lines drawn: David Cameron (left) held a historic meeting with union bosses yesterday where he told them he wanted 'constructive dialogue'. Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson says he wants the strike threshold to be set at 50 per cent of the balloted union members

Senior members of the Government are now understood to be urging the Prime Minister to draw up contingency plans for a crackdown on reckless industrial action.

Mr Cameron held a historic face-to-face meeting with union bosses in Downing Street yesterday over mince pies and coffee, at which he told them he wanted a ‘constructive dialogue’.

But speaking after the meeting, which lasted for more than an hour, union leaders insisted they would not be pacified by ‘the occasional promise of tea and a cosy chat in Downing Street’.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union said: ‘If this Government will not agree to full and meaningful negotiations [on cuts], then these meetings and fine words are pointless, and simply invite industrial and legal action.’

Ministers believe the Prime Minister must now be prepared to change legislation to set a higher bar before strike action can be declared lawfully.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has seen the capital disrupted by a series of Tube strikes, wants the threshold to be set at 50 per cent of the balloted union members, rather than the current threshold of 50 per cent of those who actually vote.

The CBI has also called for a new threshold to make strikes harder to legitimise.
There is currently no minimum number of union members who must vote in a ballot for strike action, meaning a militant few can bring about industrial action.

One Government source said: ‘Eighty-five per cent of private sector employees aren’t members of a union nowadays, so a change in the law is overdue.’

Mr Cameron hosted the Downing Street talks to try to help defuse tensions ahead of cuts which will result in the loss of around 330,000 public sector jobs and a wage freeze and higher pension contributions for those who keep their jobs.

It is the first time since February 1985, during the depths of the miners’ strike, that a Conservative prime minister has formally met a delegation from the TUC.

Delegates said they were plotting a campaign of resistance against the Government’s austerity cuts ‘the likes of which we will not have seen in this country for decades’.

A protest demonstration in London is already scheduled for March 26. Other plans include sit-down protests on motorways and coordinated strikes.

One insider said the meeting was ‘positive and businesslike, and there was no banging of fists on the table or shouting.’

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘We made clear to the Prime Minister our strong view that the spending cuts would both be socially divisive and economically dangerous.’

In a newspaper article, Mr McCluskey, whose union secured the Labour leadership for Ed Miliband, wrote: ‘While it is easy to dismiss “general strike now” rhetoric from the usual quarters, we have to be preparing for battle.

‘It is our responsibility not just to our members but to the wider society that we defend our welfare state and our industrial future against this unprecedented assault.’

Mr McCluskey could not get to the meeting with the Prime Minister because of the snow and ice which has disrupted transport. Mr Miliband attempted to distance himself from the Unite boss.

The Rail and Maritime Transport union yesterday revealed plans to bring chaos to thousands of rail passengers in the North of England over Christmas.

Its members who work for Northern Rail as conductors will walk out next Monday and Tuesday.

The company said it will be able to run only 15 per cent of its timetabled services.

The union Aslef said London Underground will be hit by ‘extensive and significant’ strikes on Boxing Day as Tube drivers walk out.

The same union is also behind a walkout by train drivers on London Midland on Thursday.

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