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Two Million Public Sector Workers Strike Against Austerity in Britain

As many as two million public sector workers are on strike in Britain today, a number which accounts for 1 out of every 30 citizens in the country (that would be the equivalent of 10 million people going on strike in America). This is the biggest strike in Britain in 30 years, when the protests focused on another purveyor of austerity, Margaret Thatcher. In this case, the main complaint concerns cuts to public sector pensions, which threaten the retirement security of British workers.

The mass action includes walkouts by UK Border Agency staff, probation officers, radiographers, librarians, jobcentre workers, court staff, social workers, refuse collectors, midwives, road sweepers, cleaners, school meals staff, paramedics, tax inspectors, customs officers, passport office staff, police civilian staff, driving test examiners, patent officers, and health and safety inspectors […]

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said public sector workers were suffering “real injustice” at the hands of the government.

“There will be some disruption to services as a result of the action – we regret that. But an awful lot of public sector workers are today saying they feel they are being treated with real injustice by the government trying to force through very, very unfair, damaging changes to their pensions. And I think that message is going to come across very, very loud and clear today.”

The British government, managing the expectations game, called the protests a “damp squib” because they only shut down 58% and not 90% of all schools, and didn’t completely dislocate the country’s transportation network. That’s really whistling past the graveyard. The truth is that the economic suffering which the Tory government has imposed upon the country – and which they still plan to impose for at least another two years – is highly unpopular. That led to today’s action, but more important for Britain, it has led to a double-dip recession and intolerably high unemployment. In reaction, chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne wants to end collective bargaining for public employees (sound familiar?) as a job creation option. The financial problems in Britain have been compounded by the austerity regime. And this is being seen throughout the Eurozone, where the unemployment rate is predictably rising and a recession is imminent. The walkout is an expression of rage against fiscal policymakers that are doing everything wrong in the face of a sick economy.

A reminder at this point, that the US cannot replicate the kind of general strike we’re seeing in Britain today, because public sector workers are barred from striking.

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David Dayen

David Dayen