NOTHING WILL STOP US FROM STRIKING; Thousands of Schools to Shut, Airports Set for Chaos, Army on Standby - but Union Barons Refuse to Even Discuss a Last-Minute Deal

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Byline: James Chapman Political Editor

UNION leaders have declared there is nothing the Government can do to avert the biggest strikes in a generation this week.

As the Army is put on standby to secure Britain's borders, millions of public sector workers are being warned that a 'hugely generous' pensions offer from ministers will be withdrawn if a deal is not agreed by the end of the year.

But the head of the Trades Union Congress, Brendan Barber, said it was 'unlikely' there was anything the Government could say to persuade him to call off Wednesday's action.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said Mr Barber had 'let the cat out of the bag' and demonstrated the unions are hell-bent on confrontation with the Government.

He also claimed the head of the biggest civil service union, Public and Commercial Services union leader Mark Serwotka, had refused even to attend talks in person.

Mr Maude warned the 'irresponsible' strikes would inflict huge damage on Britain's economy.

Ministers are seeking to increase pressure on Labour to urge its union paymasters to call off the action, though Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said yesterday that he had 'huge sympathy' for those taking part.

Wednesday's strike, by as many as two million public sector workers, has been triggered by Government proposals to limit the [pounds sterling]1trillion future cost of their generous pension schemes.

Though workers within ten years of retirement and the lowpaid are being shielded from the changes, others are being told that they must work longer and contribute more to enjoy decent retirement benefits.

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney called the move 'a naked cash grab', adding: 'UK ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, actually appear to be relishing the prospect of strike action and confrontation with the unions'.

The day of action - the biggest in 30 years - is expected to cause widespread disruption. As David Cameron prepared for emergency meetings today on contingency plans to try to limit the impact, Mr Maude confirmed troops would be on standby at ports and airports when immigration staff join the walk out. He said the UK Border Agency was considering using the Armed Forces to 'make sure our borders are secure and that inconvenience to travellers is minimised'. It is predicted that airports, such as Heathrow, will be hit by queues of as long as 12 hours and mass cancellations, and minis-ters expect millions of families to be hit by school closures.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: 'It is now virtually certain that 99 per cent or more of Scotland's primary and secondary schools will be closed on November 30.' Thousands of NHS operations and appointments are also expected to be cancelled, while council services, including rubbish collection, are set to be hit. Ministers expect job centres and some courts to close, and driving tests to be cancelled. …