As many as 2 million British public sector workers went on strike Wednesday to oppose the government’s plans to increase revenue by digging into their hard-earned pensions. Just over one-quarter of the civil service walked out, including members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s staff. Six thousand hospital operations were interrupted and more than 13,000 state schools closed in what Cameron deemed a “damp squib.”
Members of Cameron’s Conservative Party called the strikes ineffective and irresponsible, as they took place during the middle of negotiations over pension cuts between government and union leaders. Union representatives responded that talks were stalled and going nowhere.
In a head-on confrontation with Cameron in the House of Commons, Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, concurred, adding: “Why do you [Cameron] think so many decent, hardworking public sector workers, many of whom have never been on strike before, feel the government simply isn’t listening?”
The Guardian called Wednesday’s walkout England’s “biggest outbreak of industrial unrest in three decades.” To read more about where it stacks up in the history of 20th-century British labor strikes, click here. —ARK
A spokesman for the TUC, which is co-ordinating the strikes, said up to 2 million workers had taken part in the biggest bout of industrial action since the 1979 winter of discontent.
“There has been magnificent support for the strike today. It is the biggest in a generation.”
Referring to government claims of a low turnout and deliberate disruption of negotiations, the spokesman added: “The government is clutching at straws. The real question remains, how did this government provoke so many ordinary, decent people to go on strike for the first time in their lives?”
AP / Lefteris Pitarakis
Students march against austerity cuts during labor strikes in London on Wednesday.