UK govt condemns threat of protest strike

LONDON Wed Feb 29, 2012 9:08am EST

Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, are seen through Olympic rings mounted on a barge, as it is positioned in front of the Tower of London on the River Thames in London. February 28, 2012.  REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, are seen through Olympic rings mounted on a barge, as it is positioned in front of the Tower of London on the River Thames in London. February 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government, seeking to use the Olympics to showcase the country as a place to visit and do business, condemned as unpatriotic a union threat of strike action during the Games in London this summer.

The leader of Unite, Britain's biggest union, said workers should consider disrupting the Games as a protest against public spending cuts imposed by the Conservative-led coalition government.

"It's completely unacceptable and unpatriotic, what he's suggesting," Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman told reporters.

"What we want to see is everyone coming together to support the Olympics. The Olympics are a great opportunity for this country to show everything that's great about the UK."

Strikes during the Games would pose a headache for organisers relying on public transport to get fans to venues and would dent Britain's image abroad.

The government sees the Olympics as a chance to help drag the economy out of the doldrums. It has launched an international advertising campaign to boost tourism and plans a series of business summits during the Games which it hopes will generate an additional 1 billion pounds of revenue for British companies.

Cameron himself echoed the condemnation, reading extracts from Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey's interview with the Guardian newspaper to parliament during a weekly question and answer session.

Cameron also called on the opposition Labour Party to stop taking money from Unite, one of its main backers.

JOB CUTS

Britain has committed up to 9.3 billion pounds of public money for the July 27-August 12 Games which are being held at a time of deep state spending cuts which will lead to the loss of more than 700,000 public sector jobs.

McCluskey said people coming to Britain for the Games should be made aware of union anger.

"The attacks that are being launched on public sector workers at the moment are so deep and ideological that the idea the world should arrive in London and have these wonderful Olympic Games as though everything is nice and rosy in the garden is unthinkable," he told the Guardian.

Public transport during the Olympics could also be disrupted because of a dispute between the RMT union and London Underground over bonus payments.

The TUC, Britain's umbrella union body, distanced itself from McCluskey's call to use the Games to score broader political points.

"Of course unions seek fair reward for the extra work and long hours that will be required during what will be the busiest ever time for public transport and other public services, and not all such negotiations have been concluded," TUC leader Brendan Barber said in a statement.

"But of course unions want a Games of which we can all be proud," he added.

(Additional reporting by Matt Falloon and Michael Holden; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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