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General Strike Rocks Nation: Workers Across Britain Confront Conservative Austerity Demands

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 12/1/11

London -- Standing on a picket line in front of her work place at a world renowned heart-lung hospital in London wasn't Jeanette Anderson's first choice for how to spend her day.  

However, Anderson said protesting was her "only choice."

Protesting as part of a nationwide general strike in the UK, Anderson said, was necessary to combat austerity measures from Britain's conservative led government that now targets the pensions of public sector workers like Anderson and her picket line colleagues at the Royal Brompton Hospital in this city's up-scale Chelsea section.

"We do not get the fat-cat pensions like the rich," Anderson said, noting that participating in the one-day strike action wasn't something she took lightly.

"Public sector workers are already into a two-year pay freeze and now the government plans to extend that pay freeze for another two years."

Anderson, her Brompton Hospital picket line colleagues and an estimated two million other public sector workers staged a one-day general strike across Britain Wednesday (11/30).

That strike -- the largest labor action in Britain in 30 years -- closed 62 percent of the public schools in England, Scotland and Wales in addition to shuttering many government offices (local and national) including courts plus disrupting government services, such as forcing the postponements of some elective surgeries and other medical services.

Three miles from Anderson's Brompton Hospital picket line over 25,000 public workers staged a rally and march that was one of over 1,000 protest actions by workers across Britain on November 30th.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron mocked the effectiveness of the general strike, citing its failure to disrupt operations at the nation's major airports.

The Cameron government brought strikebreakers for the airports from as far away as the Caribbean to off-set the strike's impact. Further, major airlines initiated programs to reschedule flights to avoid problems from the strike, particularly anticipated delays in processing passports of arriving passengers.

Countering Cameron, Brendan Barber, head of Britain's Trade Union Congress, termed the strike a success, saying, "There has been magnificent support" for the strike. Barber promised similar labor actions in the near future if the Cameron government continues to assault the living standards of workers.

The flash point of the strike is the British government's demands that public sector workers make higher contributions to their pensions and work longer before retirement.

Yet, the wider context of the strike is the set of austerity measures Britain's conservative leaders say are required to reduce massive national budget deficits.

Deficit reduction actions, many contend, are unfairly targeting the middle and lower classes by forcing them to pay for the economic woes created by the upper class that is largely escaping the slash-and-burn pain of tax increases and service cuts.

"They want us to increase our contributions into the pension pot to ten percent of our pay and then they want to cut our pensions by twenty percent. Where is the fairness in that?" asked Steve Caddick, a National Health Service worker on the picket line with NHS colleague Anderson.

The National Health Service is the government funded healthcare system in the UK that provides much of its comprehensive medical services free of charge unlike the steep fee based system in the United States.

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Linn Washington is a weekly columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune and This Can't Be Happening. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and failings of the news media. He teaches multi-media urban (more...)
 

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