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Britons in Streets Against Austerity Policies

Translated Friday 24 October 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of London on Oct. 18 to protest against shrinking wages, which have fallen by 50 pounds (63 euros) a week since 2008, according to the organizers, despite the good performance of the British economy.

The march, made up mainly of civil servants but also including private sector workers, began at midday and was to cross the center of the British capital on its way to Hyde Park. The march, whose main slogan is “Britain Needs a Pay Rise”, was organized by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British trade union confederation. Marches were also held in Glasgow, in Scotland, and in Belfast in Northern Ireland.

“It’s time to end the lock-out that has kept the vast majority from sharing in the economic recovery,” the general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, stated.

In the London demonstration, workers expressed their distress and told of their difficulties in meeting their daily expenses, while the trade union leaders emphasized the figure “175,” which is supposed to demonstrate the gap between low and high wages in the United Kingdom.

“We’re all concerned (by the wage cuts) in the civil service,” Keith Martin, a 49-year-old worker, declared to the Agence France Presse.

“My wages have falled by 25%” said Conan Doyle, 31, who condemned David Cameron’s conservative government’s policy, which he said benefits the “rich” while “creating poverty.” He added fatalistically that “Labour won’t necessarily change things,” referring to a possible victory by Ed Milliband’s Labour Party in next May’s general elections.

A week marked by several labor conflicts

On Oct. 13, hundreds of thousands of National Health Service (NHS) workers stopped work for four hours to demand a wage hike. It was the first work stoppage since 1982, during the Thatcher years. On Oct. 15, tens of thousands of civil service workers held a 24-hour strike, also to protest against the wage freeze and falling purchasing power. In another sign of discontent, anti-government activists have protested since Oct. 17 near Parliament with plans to launch an “Occupy Democracy” movement. About 50 were still present on the morning of Oct. 18, wrapped up in blankets and drinking tea.

These labor conflicts come as the Office for National Statistics announced on Oct. 15 a new fall in the unemployment rate, which at 6% stands at its lowest level since late 2008, while economic growth should exceed 3% in 2014. But Britons’ wages continue falling in real terms since their wages (excluding bonuses) have only increased by 0.9% over the past year, which is less than the inflation rate.

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