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War of words heats up ahead of strike

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A war of words was raging between unions and the government as final preparations were being made for the biggest day of strike action in more than 30 years, over the bitter public sector pensions dispute.

Union leaders and ministers clashed over who was to blame for the deadlocked row, which will lead to a 24-hour walkout by up to two million workers on Wednesday.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the government should pause and reflect on how it had managed to “alienate its entire workforce”, while a senior minister urged nurses, teachers and civil servants to find out for themselves what the government’s reforms meant for their pensions.

Despite last-minute pleas from the government for Wednesday’s strike not to go ahead, unions pressed on with arrangements for marches, rallies, picketing and protests to be held across the UK.

Mr Barber said: “This will be the biggest strike for a generation. The government has managed to alienate its entire workforce. Even health service staff, who are very reluctant to strike, will be leaving their workplaces, although they have ensured proper emergency cover.

“Ministers must take notice of the strength of feeling of its workforce.”

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, denied union charges that the government was planning a “race to the bottom” on pensions, saying that “quite the opposite” was true.

He said: “I firmly believe that public service workers deserve the very best pensions. That’s why we are making sure they remain so generous.”

But Mr Barber accused the government of “deliberately misleading” public sector workers over the impact of planned changes to their pensions, attacking ministers’ claims that all workers on low and middle incomes would get as good, or better, pension terms under the new scheme.

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