LONDON // Paramedics, emergency crews, teachers and even some employees from the prime minister's office took to the streets of Britain yesterday for the country's largest strike in decades.
The walkout drew attention to government cuts but failed to bring the nation to a standstill.
Public sector employees staged the one-day strike over government demands that they work longer before receiving a pension and pay more in monthly contributions, part of austerity measures to tackle Britain's US$1.5 trillion (Dh5.5tn) debt.
The strike came a day after the government announced that public sector pay raises will be limited to 1 per cent through 2014 - even as inflation now runs at about 5 per cent.
"The government wants us to work longer, pay more and at the end get less. How fair is that?" said Eleanor Smith, the president of the Unison trade union that represents about 1 million health, education and law enforcement workers. Ms Smith joined a picket outside Birmingham Women's Hospital in central England, where she works as a nurse.
David Cameron, the prime minister, defended the government's stance, insisting in Parliament that "as people live longer it's only right and only fair that you should make greater contributions".
"I don't want to see any strikes. I don't want to see schools closed. I don't want see problems at our borders, but this government must make responsible decisions," Mr Cameron told the House of Commons.
Labour unions in Britain said as many as 2 million public sector staff joined the strike, which would make it the largest since the infamous industrial dispute known as the Winter of Discontent in 1979, which presaged the arrival of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister.