Generation’s Largest Strike Closes UK Schools

Members from more than 30 public sector unions have walked out in a dispute over pensions with the government, closing more than half the schools in England, write Thomas Penny and Steve Rothwell at Bloomberg Businessweek.

The plan to make public sector employees retire later and contribute more to their pensions is part of the Coalition’s program of spending cuts to narrow the budget deficit. Ministers believe its fair because workers who contribute to public-sector pensions get benefits no longer available in the private sector.

The Trades Union Congress, Britain’s umbrella labor movement, estimates there are 2 million people striking today.

“They’re asking millions of public servants to pay higher contributions that won’t go into their pensions, but will go to paying off the deficit,” says TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber.

“They’ve scrapped the bankers’ bonus tax and replaced it with a teachers’, nurses’ and lollipop ladies’ tax.”

Labor unions were angered by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s announcements of a 1 percent cap on public-sector pay increases and an increase in the pension age to 67. The chancellor also made clear he wants to ease the process of private companies taking over public-sector services.

Parents around the country have been affected as more than 70% of England’s 21,700 state schools have been closed or partially closed by the action, writes the BBC.

Part-time teacher and NASUWT representative Julia Harris, who is protesting in Maidstone, Kent, said:

“We have to be concerned about the very young, those in their 20s who have just joined, they have mortgages, they want to start families.”

Martin McCusker, deputy head teacher of a primary school in Dartford, said the government was “relying on the public sector being a vocation”.

As the BBC reported, London Mayor Boris Johnson urged people to “go back to work”, saying:

“I think the strike is regrettable and wrong, it won’t make a bean of difference to the outcome of the argument.

“I hope people, having made their point, will recognize there are kids who need to be educated, there’s stuff that needs to be done in this city and they’ll go back to work as soon as possible.”

The Office of Budget Responsibility this week increased its estimate of the number of public-sector workers who will lose their jobs by 2017 to from 400,000 to 710,000, which translates as 13 percent of employees in local and central government.