Defence sources have dismissed reports that soldiers will be brought in to act as strike-breakers following a TUC vote to explore the practicalities of organising a general strike in protest at government spending cuts.
In the past, members of the military have been brought in to provide cover when industrial action has taken place, the latest case being when the fire workers walked out a couple of years ago.
But one official source told the Guardian
that, despite reports in the Times
to the contrary, the suggestion that troops would be brought in to cover striking public sector workers was “not realistic”.
Another pointed out that any proposal to bring in troops to handle anything other than public safety would move the armed forces into entirely new political territory.
But the contingency plans, which are believed to have been discussed by Prime Minister David Cameron and cabinet office
minister, Francis Maude, appeared to come as a surprise to the Ministry of Defence
, the newspaper said.
The confusion came about after a motion was carried at the TUC Congress in Brighton today calling on the union umbrella organisation to consider the practicalities of calling a general strike in protest at “austerity measures”.
The success of the motion does not mean that such action will definitely take place, but it does require the TUC to look at whether it might be feasible.
Current general secretary, Brendan Barber, who is due to step down at the end of the year, has to date played down the likelihood of a national strike. But he warned that deploying the armed forces would amount to a worrying politicisation.
“The government should concentrate on resolving issues through negotiation, not through the provocative use of troops as strike-breakers,” he said. “It is hard to think that the armed services would be happy to be used in this highly political way. It would mark the UK out from other similar advanced democracies.”
A spokesman for the Prime Minister retorted that it was natural for the government to have contingency plans in place. But he attested that nothing had changed and he was not prepared to comment on specifics.
“Those plans are designed to take action over a range of scenarios. But the main point here is we do not think strike action is appropriate: it won’t benefit anyone. We are not intending to reopen negotiations on pay and pensions, which have already been settled,” the spokesman said.
The TUC already passed a motion on Monday calling for co-ordinated action against a public sector pay freeze. As a result, marches are scheduled to take place on 20 October in London, Belfast and Glasgow.