The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 26      July 18, 2011

(front page)
Public workers in UK
carry out protest strike
Militant/Jonathan Silberman
Protest strike in London June 30 against government attack on public workers’ pensions

LONDON—Several hundred thousand teachers and civil servants participated in a one-day protest strike here June 30 to oppose government plans to cut pensions and raise the retirement age of public sector employees. Thousands of strikers and others joined marches and rallies across the country.

The protest was called by the National Union of Teachers, University and College Union, Association of Teacher and Lecturers (ATL), and the Public and Commercial Services Union. The turnout was spurred by the grinding effects of the capitalist crisis and early stages of the government’s stepped-up attacks on workers’ living and job conditions.

The government is pressing ahead with plans to cut pensions by basing them not on final income at retirement but the average over a work life; to raise the deductions from workers’ wages paid into the pension fund; and to raise the retirement age for workers in the public sector from 60 to 66. Demonstrators carried signs, printed and hand-written, reading, “Pay more, work longer, get less,” “Work till you die or strike till you win,” and “No cuts.”

“I’m marching with the rest of the country because I don’t think we should have our pensions cut in this way by the government,” Peter Austin, a music teacher at Hornsey School and a member of the ATL, told the Militant.

Leaders of the government parties—the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats—and of the opposition Labour Party all condemned the protest. Prime Minister David Cameron called the actions “irresponsible” and “wrong for the good of the country.”

Edward Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, called on the unions to call off the work stoppage and urged Labour members of parliament to cross the picket lines to go to work that day. These strikes “are wrong at a time when negotiations are still going on,” he told the BBC. Supporting measures of his own to cut state spending on the backs of workers, Miliband says the government is moving “too far, too fast.” Many marchers expressed anger over the Labour Party leader’s stand.

As in the United States and across Europe, the government here is seeking to divide public workers from those who work for private capitalists. Bourgeois politicians say that “taxpayers” should not subsidize “privileged” public sector workers, pointing to the fact that many businesses long ago abandoned similar pensions schemes. While some buy into this argument, many other workers reject these divisive claims.

“I’m happy that workers from the private sector are here in support and solidarity,” said Lynn, a teacher in Tower Hamlets. “The government tries to divide public and private workers, and it makes all of us weaker,” she added.

Marcher Chris Thurlby, a teacher at Riverly Primary in Leyton, told this reporter, “Today is about the pensions, but we all recognize that in the last year things are getting tighter. Everyone is being squeezed more and more.”

Despite talk of “recovery” by the government and big-business media, the squeeze described by Thurlby and many other workers on the march shows no sign of easing up.

Figures released July 1 show that manufacturing activity has slowed to a 21-month low. According to the Office of National Statistics, gross domestic product fell by 6.4 percent during this recession, substantially more than the 4.6 percent decline recorded in the downturn of the early 1980s and the 2.5 percent drop in 1991. Official unemployment stands at 7.7 percent, or 2.4 million workers, and at 19.4 percent for youth between ages 18 and 24. Not counted in those figures are 1.2 million people working part time because they can’t find a full-time job. Long-term unemployment—those out of work for more than two years—continues to rise.

Workers’ wages also buy less. Disposable income has dropped 2.7 percent in the last year, the biggest one-year drop since 1977. Earlier this year Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, forecast that by the end of 2011 real wages will have fallen for six consecutive years. The last time that happened was in the 1920s.
Related articles:
Greek workers protest gov’t layoffs, wage cuts
Britain: ‘Gov’t wants us to work until we drop’
‘Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and Road to Workers Power’ out in Greek  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home