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UK cutbacks spark worst strikes in a generation

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Severin Carrell

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UK's first mass strike in 30 years

As many as two million public sector workers including teachers, nurses and border guards have gone on strike over UK pension reforms.

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LONDON: Britain experienced its worst disruption to services in decades yesterday as more than 2 million public sector workers staged a nationwide strike, closing schools and bringing councils and hospitals to a virtual standstill.

The strike by more than 30 unions over cuts to public sector pensions started at midnight, leading to the closure of most state schools; cancellation of refuse collections; rail service and tunnel closures; the postponement of thousands of non-emergency hospital operations; and ''horrific'' delays at airports and ferry terminals.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said it was the biggest stoppage in more than 30 years and comparable to the last mass strike by 1.5 million workers in 1979. Hundreds of marches and rallies were due to take place across the country. Pickets began to form before dawn at hospitals, Whitehall departments, ports and colleges.

Objection ... members of the University and College Union prepare placards for a protest march by British public sector workers.

Objection ... members of the University and College Union prepare placards for a protest march by British public sector workers. Photo: AFP

The strikes were called over government plans to overhaul pensions for all public sector workers, cutting employer contributions, raising personal contributions and, it emerged on Tuesday, increasing the state retirement age to 67 in 2026, eight years earlier than originally planned.

Union leaders were further enraged after the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that as well as a public sector pay freeze for most until 2013, their pay rises would be capped at 1 per cent for two years after that.

He also warned families would suffer six more years of economic pain in the form of falling living standards, rising unemployment and unprecedented public spending cuts.

Households will suffer effective pay cuts until 2014, with higher-rate taxpayers losing 5 per cent of their income due to government austerity measures, official forecasts showed.

This year will have seen the worst squeeze on living standards since the Second World War and the turmoil caused by the euro zone crisis means that conditions could get even worse, Mr Osborne said.

The TUC said the strike would also include tens of thousands of border agency staff, probation officers, radiographers, librarians, job centre staff, courts staff, social workers, refuse collectors, midwives, road sweepers, cleaners, school caterers, paramedics, tax inspectors, customs officers, passport office staff, police civilian staff, driving test examiners, patent officers and health and safety inspectors.

Unions and employers struck local deals to avoid disruption to emergency operations and essential services at hospitals, mental health units and residential care units for children.

The Prospect union exempted from strike action staff who work in 100 essential defence posts, including intelligence analyst posts at British bases in Afghanistan and civil servants supplying frontline troops.

Heathrow airport, which last week warned passengers they could face delays of 12 hours waiting to pass through immigration, was instead expecting waits of two to three hours. Police officers had been drafted in to assist with passport checks.

British Airways, the largest operator at Heathrow, said it was planning to operate its full schedule. Other airlines scrapped flights because of the walkouts. Etihad Airways said it cancelled three planes to Heathrow from Abu Dhabi, while Singapore Airlines dropped two flights to London, saying that there was a ''significant risk'' passengers would be unable to disembark.

Guardian News & Media; Telegraph, London; Bloomberg

25 comments

  • A new government doing its best to correct the sins of the previous one. Governments cannot indefinitely afford to spend far more than they earn.

    Commenter
    Matt C.
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    December 01, 2011, 6:46AM
    • Love it! Is that the death knell of capitalism we hear!? Things are pleasantly heating up now that we proles are finally seeing clearly that those responsible for the economic turmoil are the same scum who're profiting from it. The masses may be asses, but they're finally waking up ...

      Commenter
      Red
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 01, 2011, 7:11AM
      • The new British government may have inherited their predecessor's problems, but to take it out on their own people is reprehensible. I do not see the politicians cutting any of their perks, perhaps if they did that people would not be as angry. I bet the politicians pensions are unaffected.

        Commenter
        Angry
        Location
        Clayton
        Date and time
        December 01, 2011, 7:18AM
        • the manic st preachers were right after all!

          Commenter
          pete
          Location
          sa
          Date and time
          December 01, 2011, 7:29AM
          • The UK is broke, the Brits owe 145K for every man woman and child for their overseas debt. The only nation more broke is - The US! (Greece is 19 and Australia is 12) Sorry guys the cupboard is empty

            Commenter
            shemp
            Location
            melb
            Date and time
            December 01, 2011, 7:33AM
            • A middle class strike! Unlike the unemployed, at least they have had jobs for decades and a pension. Protesting over minor changes to their inflated salaries and pensions, that have probabaly contributed to the public debt, will get little sympathy. Wake up - your lifestyles have been unsustainable for years.

              Commenter
              Amused
              Date and time
              December 01, 2011, 7:43AM
              • Greg Platt, if it weren't for the previous Labour government's profligate spending and waste, and exacerbated by nailing out their corporate friends, the UK wouldn't be in such dire shape. You can point your little red finger at the Tories all you like, and rightly to a fair extent. But it was Labour under Blair and Brown who led the country down the gurgler.

                But trust Cameron to fix things up? No way; he's not going to penalize the banksters to recover any of the money they robbed. He's one of them, so screw the country. The strikers have a point, but Labour turned Britain into such a welfare state - very poorly run one at that - that the economy now relies heavily on the welfare state for jobs and handouts because so many jobs were exported and few were created to replace them.

                Commenter
                Mawashi
                Location
                The Soviet Socialist Republic of Australia
                Date and time
                December 01, 2011, 7:51AM
                • I cant believe that so called economists never saw this comming, or rather that they did, but stuck their heads in the sand.
                  We are all now going to pay for our generation for years and years of past greed, apathy and waste .. its like fossil fuels you cant keep taking out of the bucket and expect it to fill as it always has.
                  They say gen "Y" is "All about me". well I think there has been a lot of that already, and those fat cats talk and talk but dont care as they have their ammased millions, on the backs of workers -- and Know, "I'm all right Jack"
                  Greed will always end up in our downfall ..

                  Commenter
                  Dispondant
                  Location
                  Brisbane
                  Date and time
                  December 01, 2011, 7:59AM
                  • @ Hanging Judge Jeffries "Conservative governments create wealth, socialist governments squander it."

                    Really? Create it for who? Why should working people give a monkey's whether the Ruperts of this world get a new yacht or not?

                    And don't give me that old shite about the trickle down effect. All the data points to the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer in practically every OECD country - generally under centre right governments.

                    Cue the whining from the neo con shills about Blair and Brown leaving the cupboard bare through extravagent 'left wing' policies. Anybody who lived in the UK during the 90's and 00's can tell you that they barely touched Thatcher's economic reforms, continued to give the banks free rein and sold off public assets.

                    New Labour? Blair and Brown? You're going to have to look a little further back than that old son.

                    Commenter
                    Mark
                    Location
                    Dandenong Ranges
                    Date and time
                    December 01, 2011, 8:07AM
                    • @ Google Ron Paul,
                      Nah, it's the death knell of capitalism. The capos and the Right ARE the authoritarian rule you speak of.

                      Commenter
                      Google dick
                      Location
                      Melbourne
                      Date and time
                      December 01, 2011, 8:10AM

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