Union chief warns summer of battles with Gordon Brown will harm the movement

The trade union movement could be irrevocably damaged by the battle with prime minister Gordon Brown over public sector pay, a senior unionist has admitted.

Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the First Division Association (FDA), which represents 17,000 senior civil servants, warned that the trade unions’ planned ‘summer of discontent’ could backfire.

The National Union of Teachers, Unison and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have been holding talks about co-ordinated strikes over public service pay. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has threatened “widespread industrial action” by the end of the summer.

Brown’s speech at the Labour Party conference in September has been mooted as a possible target.

But speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, Baume said those unions were losing touch with the reality of modern government, and risked alienating their members.

“The unions are at a watershed,” he said. “If relationships with Gordon Brown’s government continue as they did with Tony Blair’s, the trade unions will lose members and influence and become weaker than we are now.”

The unions are angry about a series of below-inflation public sector pay rises. But Baume insisted the focus on pay was misplaced. He said people worked in the public sector for other reasons including influence, flexibility and better pensions.

“The union movement needs to be debating the big picture,” he said. “The density of membership could easily fall further if we get this wrong.”

 See next week’s Personnel Today for a full interview with Jonathan Baume

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