Thousands strike in Britain over pension reform

More than 10,000 schools were closed or partially closed in Britain yesterday and thousands marched in central London as the first mass strikes against the British government’s austerity plans took place. Between 100 and 200,000 civil servants (the figures are disputed) were also involved in the strikes over proposed changes to pension contributions and a plan to raise the pension age to 66.

One striker, Olayinka Williams, told the New York Times, “Basically, it means we pay 50 percent more each month and get less when we retire.”

A key argument for the reform has been the British government’s contention that the system could “go broke” if not reformed because of the rising cost of pensions to the state. According to Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister leading negotiations with the unions, "You cannot continue to have more and more people in retirement being supported by fewer and fewer people in work." However, the Guardian today reports that pensions are projected to become more affordable, not less, in the future. It is forecast that the cost of paying pensions to 6 million public sector workers will fall by £67bn over the next 50 years.

Trade union leaders and anti-cuts campaigners in Britain will meet next Tuesday (5 July) to plan a summer of industrial action and protest against their government’s austerity programme.

View a slideshow of the marches in London below. Images via Nick Atkins photography.