By Ian Onions, Political Editor / email@example.com
Trade union leaders in the Bristol area have condemned Ed Miliband for failing to back strikes over pension reforms.
The Labour leader was heckled by delegates at the TUC Congress in London, where he said it would be a “mistake” to strike while talks were taking place.
Andy Woolley, South West regional secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said Mr Miliband had “missed the point completely”.
He said: “Teachers do not want to go on strike. They have been left with no alternative whatsoever, when confronted with a Government that blatantly refuses to negotiate on anything other than the pension changes they wish to impose.
“Despite there being no evidence to suggest that the Teachers’ Pension Scheme is either unsustainable or unaffordable, the Government is insisting people pay more, work longer and get less based on nothing more than their desire that teachers should.”
Tam McFarlane, regional official with the Fire Brigades Union, said: “We are very disappointed. Public sector workers are having to get used to an economic situation which is not of their making and having to pay for that through increases in their pension contributions which is, in effect, a tax.
“It’s about time Ed Miliband started sticking up for public sector workers and the pay they deserve.”
But Nigel Costley, regional secretary of the South West TUC, defended Mr Miliband.
He said: “He was always going to get a bumpy ride for saying that they had got it wrong.
“The unions don’t want a strike, they want a deal.
“We want Labour to show they are a genuine alternative to the Coalition Government and can offer a different approach to dealing with the economy.
“I think Mr Miliband did that very well.”
In a keynote speech, Mr Miliband said he understood why millions of workers were angry over changes to their pensions, but added: “But while negotiations were going on, I do believe it was a mistake for strikes to happen. I continue to believe that.
“What we need now is meaningful negotiation to prevent further confrontation over this autumn.”
Some of the 300 delegates shouted out “shame” and took issue with the Labour leader’s message.
During a question and answer session after his speech, Mr Miliband also drew shouts of disagreement when he defended academy schools, saying two in his Doncaster constituency had made a big difference to education standards.
Mr Miliband said: “Unions can offer businesses the prospect of better management, better relationships. As you did during the recession. Of course the right to industrial action will be necessary, as a last resort.
“But in truth, strikes are always the consequence of failure. Failure on all sides. Failure we cannot afford as a nation. Instead your real role is as partners in the new economy.”
Mr Miliband drew applause for other parts of his speech, including a call for a living wage for young people, and an attack on the high level of executive pay.