A one-day general strike in Britain protested austerity measures imposed by the Conservative and Liberal-Democratic coalition government. The world capitalist crisis has impacted workers throughout the industrialized countries and the developing states., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Britain: General strike shuts public sector
By John Catalinotto
Published Dec 7, 2011 8:39 PM
More than 2 million workers walked out for 24 hours on Nov. 30 in England, Scotland and Wales in an action the union leadership called the largest in at least 30 years. Some say it was the biggest since the 1926 general strike. The strikers closed two-thirds of the schools, picked up no garbage, forced the postponement of 6,000 nonessential operations in the hospitals and did this defying weeks of anti-strike propaganda.
The issues grow out of the generalized ruling-class attack on the public sector workers in the form of “austerity.” They include wage freezes while inflation continues to whittle down workers’ standards of living; pension cuts arising from an increase in pension ages, an increase in worker contributions and a change in pension calculations; and as many as 710,000 job eliminations in the public sector.
The Conservative Party-led government — even more viciously than Tony Blair’s Labor government — has targeted pubic sector workers for the latest round of cuts. Private sector workers have already suffered large wage cuts since the Margaret Thatcher government in the 1980s broke some important strikes.
Today’s Conservative regime, with the support of the entire corporate media, including the Sun, the Daily Mail — that is, the openly anti-worker Murdoch press — spent weeks calling the public workers “privileged” and trying to undermine strike support.
The Labor Party, while not joining in the attacks on the unions, nevertheless, did not themselves support the strike call.
The unions stayed strong. And the people backed the strikers. Some 61 percent, according to a BBC poll, considered the strike “justified” as did 67 percent of the women, 71 percent of people in Scotland and 79 percent of those between 18 and 24 years old. The latter group would be part of the “indignant ones” seizing the plazas of Spain, or in the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States.
As in the U.S., public service workers in Britain are a large majority women, and are far from being privileged. And the Conservative government had announced cuts of 16 percent in public sector pay and benefits by 2015, and the 710,000 job cuts, while it slashed child tax credit for low-paid workers, which will throw 100,000 more children into poverty.
One observer noted that most of the workers were striking for the first time in their lives. Hundreds of thousands also marched in 1,000 separate labor marches throughout Britain. As many as 100,000 people marched in London, another 20,000 in Manchester, and in Birmingham 15,000 marched through the city center, despite attempts to ban the action.
Some 10,000 marched in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland, plus 5,000 in Cardiff, in Wales. In Belfast, in British-occupied Ireland, 15,000 workers marched.
The photos of the strikes at progressive newspaper websites show the leading role of women in many of the actions, and that Black and Asian workers were present and active.
While Britain’s economy is supposedly sounder than that of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, its working class suffers from similar cuts in wages and benefits, and growing insecurity. One in five youth can’t find work, and the unemployment rate has been growing. Family heads are cutting their spending on food and heat in order to be able to pay for their housing.
In addition, pay inequality is growing rapidly. In 1979, the top one-thousandth of the population in earnings got 1.3 percent of the total earnings. In 2007, they received 6.5 percent. This trend is expected to continue until the inequality is “equivalent to the level known in the English Victorian era.” (Figaro, Nov. 22)
A year ago there were massive student demonstrations in Britain protesting vast tuition increases at universities. There was also a large demonstration of workers and students earlier this year. Over the summer, there was a rebellion sparked by a police killing in the inner cities in a few regions where young people, mostly but not exclusively from Black and Asian communities, fought with police.
The experience of these different sectors of the population may explain why the BBC poll found such generalized support for the strikers despite the propaganda blitz by the ruling-class media and the government. They each had come under attack from the same forces that attacked the workers in the weeks leading up to Nov. 30. And they each were victims of the same lying machine.
The Nov. 30 general strike showed the potential for putting all those struggles together. n
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