Westminster disgusted by Olympic ‘disobedience’ call

By Alex Stevenson

Union chief Len McCluskey's call for strikes and "civil disobedience" during the Olympics is attracting widespread condemnation in Westminster.

Even the Trades Union Congress has distanced itself from remarks by the Unite union's general secretary, whose calls for strikes, direct action protests and even public unrest against the coalition's austerity agenda during the Games have triggered outrage.

"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," Mr McCluskey said in an interview with the Guardian yesterday.

"Our very way of life is being attacked. By then this crazy health and social care bill may have been passed, so we are looking at the privatisation of our National Health Service.

"I believe the unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting."

His comments have already attracted attention around the world, leading to fears that Britain's international reputation could be undermined by the threat of disruption to the Games.

The coalition came out strongly against the call for civil disobedience.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said people would be "gobsmacked" and "appalled" at Mr McCluskey's proposals.

Conservative party chairman Sayeeda Warsi said his calls for "mass disruption when the eyes of the world will be on Britain" was "disgraceful".

Both called on Ed Miliband to exert influence over Mr McCluskey to force him to withdraw his comments.

The Labour leader moved quickly to distance himself from the comments, making clear that "any threats to the Olympics are totally unacceptable and wrong".

But in prime minister's questions he was attacked by David Cameron, who pointed out Unite provided around one-third of Labour's funding. "It is not good enough for them to put out a tweet," he told MPs, demanding a fuller statement.

Deputy leader Harriet Harman had earlier said: "I have spoken to Len McCluskey this morning and said that both Ed Miliband and I think he is wrong and we think that he shouldn’t even have been floating the prospect.

"The Olympics are going to be a fantastically important thing for London and the whole country. It is inconceivable that trade union members would want to disrupt something that they've been very much a part of."

The TUC's Brendan Barber issued a statement making clear it and Britain's unions were "strong supporters of the London Olympics".

"This was reflected in the agreement we reached with London2012 in 2008, which included proper procedures for the speedy resolution of any disputes should any arise during the Games themselves," he said.

"Unions have engaged constructively with the Olympic authorities throughout the whole project to ensure the good working conditions that are helping deliver the Games on time and on budget. We also want to see a great Games that delivers a proper legacy of jobs and regeneration."

Mr McCluskey's threat has alarmed many of those looking forward to London 2012, however.

"I think it would be a great shame," 11-time Paralympic gold medal winner Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson said, on the prospect of strikes.

"The Olympics are a massive celebration, the eyes of the world will be upon us. I hope everybody carries on treating it that way."