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Strike and We'll Change the Law, UK Warns Unions

The UK government will send a warning to unions Monday that it is prepared to change the law should it deem it necessary to avoid the threat of coordinated strikes.

Speaking to the GMB union’s annual conference later on Monday Business Secretary Vince Cable will call for “cool heads” in the coming months as the coalition government’s public spending and jobs cuts take effect.

The speech follows calls by London mayor Boris Johnson and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to change strike laws to make it more difficult for unions to stage a walkout.

The London mayor wants the law changed so that unions can only stage a walkout if over half of their members vote to go on strike. The CBI has called for a slightly more modest change to the law, suggesting 40 percent of members to would need to vote in favor of strike action.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents white collar civil servants, is currently holding a ballot of its members on whether to go on strike on June 30.

The GMB, which represents the vast majority of blue collar public sector workers, is also considering taking strike action in coordination with the PCS, which would lead to a walkout of some 750,000 public sector workers - the largest such strike in years.

“Later this month, we may very well witness a day of industrial action across significant parts of the public sector," Cable will tell the GMB conference, according to a copy of his speech seen by CNBC.com.

"The usual suspects will call for general strikes and widespread disruption. This will excite the usual media comments about ‘a summer’ or ‘an autumn’ of discontent. And another group of usual suspects will exploit the situation to call for the tightening of strike law," he will warn.

“We are undoubtedly entering a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector. On that basis, and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not compelling," the speech continued.

“However, should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act would ratchet up. That is something which both you, and certainly I, would wish to avoid.”

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny reacted with disappointment to the speech telling the BBC on Monday: “I don't think that any strike in this country could inflict the sort of economic damage on our country that the banks and finance houses and frankly current government policy have done."

"It's funny how ministers encourage strikes in Egypt and places like that, but they want to ban them in Britain," Kenny added.

Last September, Cable was invited to speak at the Trades Unions Congress annual conference - however the invitation was later withdrawn.

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