Thursday, December 1, 2011

Austerity here and abroad sparks pickets, strikes

Yesterday at the British Embassy.
Just to recap yesterday's happenings:  2 million people joined the biggest general strike in the UK in 30 years, while U.S. union members picketed here in sympathy. "Austerity," in a word, explains why. The Tory government wants Britain's public service workers to take the blame for the global financial crisis by working harder for less money -- a refrain familiar to American ears.

In Washington at noon, the British Embassy was picketed by several hundred union members and Occupiers. Teamsters Local 639 President Tommy Ratliff, who was there, said,
It's going to continue to happen to public workers and private workers. 14 million people are out of work -- where will it end?  It's just corporate greed. It's the difference between the 1 percent and the 99 percent.
Similar pickets were held at British consulates in Chicago, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Los Angeles. National Nurses United at Daily Kos wrote,
The United Steel Workers, Teamsters, AFT, ATU, SEIU, AFL central labor councils, Unite-Here, and members of Occupy DC and Occupy Chicago, were among labor and community activists joining the solidarity actions.
The historic British strike was called by the workers to protest brutal cuts to their pensions and retirement benefits.
As nurses and other union members and activists said in the support rallies in the U.S., American workers face similar fights.
KTVU in San Francisco showed Teamsters picketing in front of the British consulate in San Francisco:
...and nurses joining teamsters in san francisco today in a gesture of support in great britain. organizers say as many as two million people didn't go to work today in the uk. workers there are angry over pay freezes and proposed pension hikes.
We also understand Teamsters picketed the British consulate in New York.

You probably won't read much about Britain's general strike here. After all, we can't imagine why the US media would be interested in workers' response to government austerity. So we turn to the Globe and Mail for an account of the action:
The streets are absolutely teeming with children, the parks filled with parents working their BlackBerries while watching their kids, and the international airports nearly vacant, their passport desks staffed with well-known senior government officials in good suits.
It’s a general strike, British-style: On Wednesday, more than half the country’s public employees have walked off the job to protest the deep cuts to public-sector pay and pensions being imposed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal coalition government in a major cost-cutting drive.
In practice, it means that most kids didn’t go to school today – 58 per cent of public primary and secondary schools are closed completely, and only 13 per cent are fully staffed. Hospitals are only taking emergency cases, as most nurses are on strike.
In fact, the school where Mr. Cameron and one of his top cabinet minister, Michael Gove, send their children, St. Mary Abbots Primary School in Kensington, was largely shut down, with only two classes open.
British workers struck as a new report predicted that their average income will fall 7.4 percent in the next three years. As

As the peerless blogger Atrios wrote,
Deliberately make the poor and middle class poorer, the rich richer, and then not understand when there are riots.
Or Occupations.