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Britain's Unions Strike For Higher Pay - 2002-07-17

Unions representing nearly 1.25 million local government workers in Britain are on strike for higher pay. The strike affected public services in much of the country.

Hundreds of thousands of local government workers joined the 24-hour strike to press their demand for a six percent wage increase.

Municipal governments have offered three percent raises, but unions say that is not enough for the lowest paid workers to live on. The central government of Prime Minister Tony Blair said it will not intervene in the dispute, calling it a matter for local councils to resolve.

The strike shut down services such as schools, libraries, and garbage collection in many communities across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Union leader John Edmonds said the strikers have the support of the public. "We are getting a lot of sympathy, I think, once people realize that a quarter of a million people working at local councils earn less than five pounds ($8) an hour. I do not think most people realize just how badly paid council workers are," he said.

While municipal workers plan to go back to work Thursday, London subway workers have set a 24-hour strike over safety issues. London commuters are being warned that the morning rush hour could be severely disrupted Thursday, and some employers are offering their staff excused absences.

The labor unrest has revived memories of 1979, when Britain was hit by a prolonged national strike that left mountains of uncollected garbage and bodies unburied at government cemeteries.

After suffering through what was called the "winter of discontent," British voters tossed out the ruling Labor Party and elected a Conservative Party government led by Margaret Thatcher.