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Woekrs in britain stage mass strike { March 29 2006 }

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   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/28/AR2006032801765.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/28/AR2006032801765.html

Workers in Britain Stage Mass Strike
Public Sector Disputes Pension Rollback

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 29, 2006; A16



LONDON, March 28 -- Schools closed, libraries shut, trash was left uncollected and other services came to halt in many parts of Britain on Tuesday as public sector workers went on strike over a pensions dispute.

Unison, one of the country's largest unions, said more than a million people refused to go to work in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and called it the biggest strike in decades. The Local Government Association called that assertion exaggerated.

"If we do not get negotiations, there will be more strikes," said Dave Prentis, Unison's general secretary. He said government plans to roll back pension benefits treated some employees like "second-class citizens. . . . They are not selfish people, they are not using any excuse to call 'strike' and have a day off -- they are asking simply for what they have paid for and what they deserve."

At issue is a system in which many government workers can retire with full benefits at age 60 if they have completed 25 years of service. This fall, the government says, rising costs will force it to scrap the "rule of 85" -- for teaching assistants, police community support officers, school-meal workers, garbage collectors and other local government employees, forcing them to work longer before they retire.

Tuesday's strike occurred on the same day that hundreds of thousands of workers in France staged a one-day stoppage to protest a new labor law giving employers freedom to lay off young workers. Labor officials said the timing was coincidental.

The British government has generally been more successful than its counterparts on the continent at rolling back entitlements and benefits in the face of rising costs and global competition, but unions continue to be strong and change has not come easily.

London's city hall closed on Tuesday, the people who raise and lower the spans of Tower Bridge walked out, ferries were brought to a standstill, stranding commuters, and cemetery burials were disrupted. Hundreds of thousands of children were sent home early or did not go to school, as many school workers joined the walkout.

Some private business leaders have said the rule allowing retirement at 60 should have been scrapped for all government employees to bring it into the 21st century.

2006 The Washington Post Company



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Woekrs in britain stage mass strike { March 29 2006 }

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