British workers strike against pension cuts

Marchers in London carry placards during a nationwide day of strikes Thursday. Hundreds of thousands of people participated. / LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/Associated Press

BY JILL LAWLESS

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LONDON — British teachers and public-sector workers swapped classrooms and offices for picket lines Thursday as hundreds of thousands walked off the job to protest pension cuts.

Airport operators warned there could be long lines at immigration entry points because of walkouts by passport officers, but most of Britain’s airports, including Heathrow and Manchester, said it was business as usual.

Unions estimated that up to 750,000 teachers and civil servants joined the one-day strike, which disrupted courthouses, tax offices, employment centers and schools. The government said the figure was lower.

Thousands of union members marched through London and other cities to demand that the government rethink plans to curb public-sector pensions. Small groups of anti-capitalist protesters scuffled with police and were cordoned in by officers.

Police said 37 people were arrested for offenses including drug possession, criminal damage and breach of the peace.

Thursday’s walkouts are the first salvo in what unions said they hope will be a summer of discontent against the Conservative-led government’s austerity plans.

At a rally in the city of Manchester, Helen Andrews of the National Union of Teachers said that teachers were being asked to “pay more, work longer, get less.”

The government insists everyone must share the pain as it cuts $130 billion from public spending to reduce Britain’s huge deficit, swollen after the government spent billions bailing out foundering banks.

It is cutting civil service jobs and benefits, raising the state pension age from 65 to 66, increasing the amount public-sector employees contribute to pensions and reducing their retirement payouts.

Unions said their members work many years for modest pay on the promise of a solid pension, and accuse the government of reneging on that deal.

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