By Henry Ridgwell
Demonstrations are taking place in cities across Britain as hundreds of thousands of public sector workers stage the biggest strike in years against pension cuts. On the other side of Europe in Greece, there have been more demonstrations as politicians there vote through the latest round of austerity measures. The spending cuts taking hold in many European countries could hail a summer of protests across the continent.
Europe’s debt crisis is starting to bite – and it’s bringing thousands of people onto the streets.
In Britain, teachers’ and public workers’ unions called a strike Thursday. Thousands of members joined marches against plans to increase the retirement age. Outside Westminster Abbey – where the royal wedding united the country in celebration just 2 months ago – the streets were filled with demonstrators.
“It’s not fair. We can’t be working in that kind of pressurized environment to the age of 68. I’m going to be paying twice the amount that I’m currently paying and I’ll get even less,” said a protester.
“We are not about to roll over. Bankers played dice with our futures, why are we paying for it?,” said the other.
“Rather than taking what’s dished out and being like “OK”, and letting the government think that could do more, at least they understand now that people do feel about it and they’re willing to turn up en masse to show people what they think about it,” said another one.
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the industrial action. Many of them joined one of the 80 demonstrations taking place across the country.
The strike caused long queues at ports and airports as immigration and customs staff staged walkouts. Around a third of schools across Britain were closed, while court trials were delayed.
The British government has condemned the strikes, saying people are living longer so they will have to work longer too. It’s part of a raft of spending cuts being pushed through parliament to tackle the public debt – currently running at almost $1.5 trillion, or 60 percent of GDP.
But Britain’s burden pales when compared to fellow EU member Greece.
In Athens, parliament passed a second vote on Thursday to begin implementing austerity measures worth $40 billion. It means Greece will receive the next slice of a $156 billion bailout from the EU and the International Monetary Fund. The public reaction has been hostile – polls show 4 out of 5 Greeks disapprove of the measures.
The Greek government had warned that without the bailout it would run out of money by the middle of July – with dire consequences for both Greece and the wider world economy.
Across Europe there is a common belief uniting the protestors – they say they did not cause the financial crisis, so they should not be the ones who pay for it.