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PORTSIDE  November 2011, Week 5

PORTSIDE November 2011, Week 5

Subject:

'Biggest strike in a generation' for Britain's public sector workers

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Date:

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 22:12:13 -0500

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text/plain (173 lines)

'Biggest strike in a generation' for Britain's public
sector workers 

30.11.2011

http://mobile.dw-world.de/english/ua.2/mobile.A-15569126-1433.html

More than two thirds of British schools were shut on
Wednesday as an estimated two million public sector
workers staged a one-day walkout in a row over pension
reforms.

Unions claimed the strike, which saw thousands of hospital
operations cancelled and caused delays at British
airports, was the biggest industrial action in the UK for
more than thirty years.

Employees responsible for delivering many of Britain's
public services are angry over plans to raise their
retirement age to 67 and force workers to increase their
monthly pension contributions.

The government insists that workers must face up to a
stark new reality. The British economy is barely growing
and is feeling the effects of the eurozone crisis, not to
mention the UK's own debt problems.

Ministers claim that workers in the public sector, which
includes Britain's largest employer, the National Health
Service (NHS), have seen their standard of living rise
dramatically over the last ten years, while those on the
private sector payroll have seen average incomes fall.

Public opinion divided

But some workers say the government has exaggerated just
how generous public sector pensions are, in an attempt to
split public opinion.

"The average pension for people working in the NHS is
8,000 pounds (9,340 euros; $12,554) a year," said Jackie
Hall, a child psychotherapist for the NHS. "It's made out
as if the rest of the country is financing something which
is exorbitant. But it's actually something very modest and
really well earned," said Hall, who joined Wednesday's
march through central London with her colleagues.

More than 25,000 people turned out for the rally on the
banks of the River Thames, just a short walk from London's
famous Houses of Parliament.

Union officials hoped that despite battling a coalition
government determined to cut Britain's enormous public
deficit, the one-day strike would help force officials to
rethink their offer.

"We've been in negotiations with the government since
January," said Karen Jennings, assistant deputy secretary
of Unison, Britain's largest public sector union. "It was
only the day before we announced our ballot that the
government went to parliament and made some concessions,"
she added.

Economic outlook worsens

But in a warning that unions may be too optimistic, UK
Chancellor George Osborne told parliament less than 24
hours earlier, that additional austerity measures were
necessary to bring down Britain's debt levels.

Public sector workers, he said, could expect just a one
percent annual pay increase between now and 2014. Osborne
said he had no option but to bring forward plans to
increase the retirement age.

Workers attending the London rally say morale in many
parts of the UK's public sector is at an all-time low.

"I'm now facing a time when I'm reconsidering my career
because I'd be much better off in the private sector,"
said Judith McAteer, a teacher from the London borough of
Lewisham.

"Conditions are getting worse and the only thing you had
to look forward to was a decent pension. But that's being
taken away from us as well," added McAteer who moved to
the British capital from Northern Ireland because of a
lack of employment prospects.

Despite those worries, analysts warn that Britain's public
sector faces even tougher times. The Office for Budget
Responsibility forecasts that another 330,000 jobs will
have to be lost before 2015 in addition to nearly half a
million positions already earmarked to be cut.

Women bear the brunt

Unions say that women will be disproportionately affected
by the reforms as many are employed as nurses, teachers
and social workers.

"Women are looking after people every day of the week.
They're the cohesive side of society," said Karen Jennings
from the union Unison. "I think people, and the female
voter in particular, will make sure that the government
rues the day if they don't concede," she warned.

Unlike many health workers, Britain's 400,000 nurses did
not take part in the strike. Nurses unions, who are due to
ballot their members about industrial action in January,
are equally worried about the government's plans to
increase pension contributions.

Union leaders says it is the equivalent of a three percent
tax increase, at a time when inflation in the UK has
reached more than five percent and Britain's sales tax was
raised to 20 percent.

"What the government is saying to us is 'you can pay more,
work longer and get a lot less at the end of it'," said
Faith Thornhill, who works at University College Hospital
in London.

The nurse, who joined a picket line for striking workers
warned ministers that they may end up with a much bigger
pension bill: "A lot of us can't afford the increase and
may have to leave the scheme," said Thornhill. "If that
happens and the scheme collapses, we'll be more reliant on
our state pension and it will cost the government more."

Minimal Disruption

More than a thousand similar rallies were held all over
the UK. An estimated 20,000 people marched through the
streets of Manchester, another 10,000 protested in
Glasgow.

Despite fears that the one-day strike would bring much of
Britain to a standstill, commentators said the disruption
was minimal. Border officials arranged alternative cover
for customs officers at UK ports and airports. Contingency
plans at hospitals and local government offices helped
keep services running.

About a third of council staff in England and Wales were
not at work on Wednesday.

Prime Minister David Cameron played down the impact of the
walk-out described the strike as a "damp squib" while
Trades Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber
said the strike was "a terrific success".

Author: Nik Martin
Editor: Joanna Impey

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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