The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 46      December 19, 2011

2 million public workers
join 1-day strike in U.K.
(feature article)
LONDON—An estimated 2 million public sector workers, including teachers, hospital workers, refuse collectors and civil servants, took off work Nov. 30 to protest the government’s plan to raise their retirement age and make them pay more to qualify for pension benefits. Around the country many took to the streets in protest.

“I’m here to support younger people who can’t get a job,” said Tony Evans, a teacher from Berkshire who joined tens of thousands marching through central London. “Unemployment is rising at a frightening speed and the chancellor said today that he will increase public sector redundancies [layoffs] from 400,000 to 710,000.” Official unemployment stands at 8.3 percent. Youth unemployment has hit a record 21.9 percent.

“We’ve had a three-year wage freeze, now the government wants to extend that and increase the amount we pay for our pensions by 3 percent. Where is our bailout?” asked Mark Cuthbertson, an assistant head teacher from Mile End.

“We’re not all in this together, like the chancellor [George Osborne, the government’s finance minister] claims,” said retired teacher Mira Livné.

Prior to the action Osborne, a Conservative, forecast the sharpest decline in disposable household income since 1945. He projected a further six years of austerity to reduce the government’s budget deficit, including further job cuts.

Labour leader Edward Miliband committed a Labour government to continue the same course of deficit reduction, while arguing that the Conservatives are going “too far, too fast.” He opposed a previous strike by hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in the summer, but declined to either back or condemn this most recent action.

More than half of British trade is within Europe, a continent wracked by a deep economic crisis. Bank of England Governor Mervyn King described the situation as “extraordinarily serious and threatening” and announced contingency plans in response to a breakup of the eurozone.

Becky Draper, a chemistry student, was one of 50 students from King’s College London who joined the march. She said one reason she participated was the rising cost of renting accommodations in London. Claire Glover, a 26-year-old retail supervisor, took the day off work to take part, explaining that since graduating she has been unable to find work as a teacher.

Some 36,000 health workers joined the walkout. Jenny Draper, an ambulance dispatcher, said that in addition to the wage freeze and rising pension costs, ambulance workers face increasing job combinations. An ambulance worker at a demonstration in Manchester carried a placard that read, “Do you want me carrying you down 6 flights of stairs when I’m 67?” referring to the government’s decision to increase the age at which public sector workers can retire.

To undercut support for the strike, the government appealed to “taxpayers,” who supposedly “pay” for public workers’ pensions. Opponents of the strike try to stoke resentment by emphasizing that public workers’ pensions are considerably better than those of most working people.

“Some public sector workers don’t work hard enough to justify the benefits that they get,” said Muric Frangipani, a London clothing store worker who did not take part in the action.

Mike Jackson, a garden center worker, said he joined the London action “because the government tries to divide public sector and private sector workers and they need solidarity.”

Teame Berne, who works at the McVities factory in London, said it’s important to “support public sector workers. The government attacks affect us all. Now they are changing employment law to make it easier for employers to fire workers.”

Caroline Bellamy in Manchester and Debbie DeLange in London contributed to this article.
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Reject bosses’ concession contract
Dozens of unions organize rally to support locked-out sugar workers
New Zealand: Locked-out meat workers win support
Shut out of terminal, ILWU prepares protest of first ship
On the Picket Line
Back workers’ lockout battles, strikes  
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