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30 November 2011

The biggest strike in a generation

The biggest strike in a generation

Up to two million people went on strike across the country today (Wednesday, 30 November). Schools, hospitals, airports, ports, libraries and other local authority services have faced disruption, and more than 1,000 demonstrations have taken place across the UK.

The proposed changes to pensions for public sector workers, based on a report by Lord Hutton, will result in people paying more into their pensions and working longer for less. Unions have said this is unacceptable, while the government has defended its proposals by saying that the cost of funding public sector pensions is "unsustainable" and the changes are necessary.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented that it is: "The biggest strike in a generation. I take no pleasure in that. It is always better to resolve disputes and disagreements through negotiation, but that route has failed."

In a statement on the eve of the strike, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: "While discussions are continuing, I would urge public sector workers to look at the offer for themselves rather than listening to the rhetoric of their union leaders."

A BBC poll at the beginning of the week indicated that 61 per cent of people believe public sector workers have the right to strike. For those in education, the feeling was so strong that for the first time in its 114-year history, the National Association of Head Teachers decided to strike and around 85 per cent of schools were closed.

The chairman of the Association of Christian Financial Workers (ACFA), Aiden Vaughan said: "The Hutton Report was commissioned and reported in October 2010 and, very reasonably, suggested that solutions should involve affordability and sustainability; adequacy and fairness; transparency and simplicity."

He added: "This issue is of enormous importance to everyone in our nation, especially the younger generations who have to help fund the retiring 'baby boomer' generations as well as themselves. There has to be justice between the generations as well as between competing groups of workers for society to work effectively. It is a time to think beyond our own interest groups.

"Final salary pensions are a great thing. It would be wonderful if they could be available for all, but who should pay for yours - you or other taxpayers? There is an issue of fairness and integrity here that affects the whole of our society."

Steve Fouch posted a blog on the Christian Medical Fellowship's site entitled 'Industrial action: how should Christians respond?' Tackling the issue straight on, he said: "The removal of labour is a coercive act, and therefore should be the last course of action in any dispute. Consider the implications… That being said, there are precedents for Christians taking direct action." He also questioned whether the pension issue is in the same league as other historical boycotts, or whether we simply need to adjust to the economic realities of this decade.

Summing things up, Clive Ireson, the director of the Association of Christian Teachers, commented: "On the day of action Christians in schools will have taken personal decisions related to their own circumstances and those of their educational institution. Do pray for all those working in schools and the wider workplace as they wrestle with such decisions. As Christians we must remember God is not limited by any economic crisis and as His representatives in the public sector it is our time to support and bless other colleagues."