Daily Israel Report

Euro Woes? Public Service Strike in UK Biggest in Decades

Britain's austerity measures are fostering union militancy and governmental anit-union rhetoric.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/1/2011, 10:29 AM

Tuesday's public service strike in Great Britain illustrated that while Britain is outside the euro zone, she will feel the impact of the European crisis.

The British government angered the public service workers when George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that when the current pay freeze ends there'll be a salary cap of 1%.

Osborne was speaking as the prognosis for British growth was cut sharply to 0.7% after it had been predicted that it would rise by 2.5%. This means a massive shortfall in government earnings, so that the government has to take austerity measures to prevent a runaway deficit.

For the trade unions, measures such as retrenchment on pensions under which they will have to work longer, put in more cash and then receive less, seems to merely presage further draconian decrees that will hit all the workers.

Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband have tried to avoid inflaming the situation, but they risk pressures from within their own camps as the atmosphere polarizes.

Britain's public service unions demanded that the Labour Party display solidarity with working people. The Transport Union's Bob Crow chided the party: "Sitting on the fence is a very awkward place to sit… They had better make their minds up what side of the fence they are on."

Other union leaders threatened to disrupt the 2012 London Olympics.

Miliband had earlier said that he would not condemn the strikers because they had been put in an impossible position by a government that had not negotiated fairly and that had been escalating the antiunion rhetoric.

Education Minister Michael Gove accused the trade union leadership of seeking to increase strife and industrial relations and deliberately inconvenience the public. He identified three major union leaders as militants. Gove had to watch as most of Britain's state schools were forced to close.

Gove's remarks reminded some of the rift between Margaret Thatcher and the trade unions in the 1980s.

As has been happening in the United States, a rift has opened between workers in the public sector who get greater social benefits and workers in the private sector who are less fortunate.