British strike wrong but 'real battle' is yet to come: press

1st July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Newspapers from both sides of the political divide on Friday criticised Britain's "lacklustre" public sector walkout, but most predicted that serious union unrest was likely over the coming months.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband was in the media's crosshairs over his ambiguous relationship with the unions, although the government was also warned that sustained industrial action could prove to be its "Iraq moment".

"Scratch the surface and this is a political stunt, a strike about having a strike, organised by feather-bedded union leaders on six-figure salaries," outspoken right-wing commentator Richard Littlejohn wrote in The Daily Mail.

"It's not a Winter of Discontent, it's a Summer of Selfishness," he added.

Meanwhile, the centre-right Telegraph called Thursday's one-day strike "lacklustre" and said it "proved the unions will not win," in its editorial.

Robert Lea writing in The Times disagreed, saying the government's fight with the unions "starts now".

"Like it or not, unions are feeling emboldened," he added. "It is up to employers, public sector and private, to work out if they have the stomach for the fight".

The Independent, which tends to be sympathetic towards left-wing causes, agreed that the "real battle" lay ahead.

The Guardian, a strong supporter of the public sector, focused on the possible impact that the strikes could have on Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government if handled badly.

"Public sector workers' terms and conditions are a delicate subject for a Conservative government," wrote columnist Martin Kettle.

"Cameron should remember his history, he has been warned. These strikes could become the coalition's Iraq moment," he argued.

However, his Labour counterpart Miliband received more stinging criticism over his reluctance to take a firm stance either way on the strike, which was carried out by up to 600,000 teachers and civil servants.

The editorial of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times called Thursday's strike "an assertion of sectional interest" and "an attempt to undermine the right of governments to govern" and warned Miliband it could reflect badly upon his party.

"Labour leaders seek to be prime minister and govern in the common interest and they know that strikes of the kind we saw yesterday are a blow to both," it said.

"So far, he (Miliband) has taken a middle position," it continued. "He has called the strikes wrong, but always takes care to add 'because negotiations are still going on'.

"This is not the reason that the strikes are wrong. They are wrong because both the method being used and the demand being made are wrong," it concluded.

Littlejohn claimed the Labour leader was reluctant to talk about the action due to party politics, adding he was "paid for by the unions".

Under government proposals, public sector workers will have to work longer and pay more into their pension schemes.

© 2011 AFP

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