UK labor unions warn of surge in strikes

British labor union leaders warned Thursday of a surge in strikes next year to protest the government’s harsh spending cuts — and claimed that industrial action may even affect the country’s royal wedding.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said that walkouts could become widespread in 2011 as ordinary workers feel the impact of Britain’s austerity measures.

Treasury chief George Osborne has announced 81 billion pounds ($128 billion) in spending cuts through 2015, which will see as many as 330,000 public sector jobs lost and vastly reduce welfare payments. The cuts are intended to tackle a spending deficit of about 109 billion pounds ($172 billion), racked up during the financial crisis.

“What is becoming clear to people is just how unfair the coalition’s policies are. Those who did (the) least to cause the crash are being made to take the nastiest medicine with the worst side-effects,” Barber said.

He said a major demonstration is being planned for London in March. It follows strikes by subway workers, and violent protests in recent months over planned increases in college tuition fees.

Hundreds of demonstrators vandalized government buildings, battled riot police and attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, during a rally earlier this month against the fee hikes.

The Public and Commercial Services Union said it is planning strikes to protest spending cuts in late April or early May, which could potentially affect the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29.

Mark Serwotka, the leader of the Public and Commercial Services Union — which represents civil servants and government workers — told The Times of London that his organization would not deliberately target the wedding, but did plan to protest around Easter and would not avoid the date of the ceremony.

“The royal wedding would not be a factor in our planning, but nor would it be a factor to avoid,” he was quoted as telling the newspaper.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said dissent over planned cuts, tax hikes and tuition fee rises could match major protests in 1990 — when angry Britons opposed a planned change to personal taxes.

“We can expect to see workers in both public and private sectors out on the picket lines fighting for jobs and against savage attacks on pensions and standards of living,” Crow said in a statement.

“There is no reason for working people to pay the price for a crisis we didn’t create and which is wholly down to the banks, speculators and politicians,” he said.

Workers at a H.J. Heinz Co. factory in Wigan, in northern England, walked out Wednesday for a third week in a row, demanding better pay. About 1,200 staff joined the 24-hour strike — prompted by a dispute over a new two-year pay offer.

via The Associated Press.


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