Britain criticizes Olympic strike threat

A threat by Britain’s largest labor union to disrupt the London
Olympics with strikes is ”unacceptable and unpatriotic,” Prime
Minister David Cameron’s office said Wednesday.

Len McCluskey, the head of the Unite union, suggested its
members could stage walkouts during the 2012 Summer Games to oppose
the Conservative-led government’s sharp austerity cuts. The union
says it represents 200,000 public sector workers.

He was quoted as telling The Guardian newspaper that the July
27-Aug. 12 London Olympics are a justified target for those
opposing spending cuts and job losses.

”It is completely unacceptable and unpatriotic what he is
proposing,” Cameron’s spokesman Steve Field told reporters. ”Most
people in this country, including members of that union, think the
Olympics is a great occasion for the country and wouldn’t want to
see anything happen that would disrupt it in any way.”

Both Cameron and Ed Miliband, head of Britain’s main opposition
Labour Party – which receives significant financial backing from
Unite – condemned the threat of industrial action.

”Any threat to the Olympics is totally unacceptable and
wrong,” said Miliband. ”This is a celebration for the whole
country and must not be disrupted.”

Cameron urged Labour to turn down money from the union in
response to its Olympic threat.

McCluskey said that no plans had yet been drawn up for specific
action during the Olympics but that any activity could
”absolutely” include strikes.

”I believe the unions, and the general community, have got
every right to be out protesting,” he was quoted as telling the
newspaper. ”If the Olympics provide us with an opportunity, then
that’s exactly one that we should be looking at.”

He said that the ”idea the world should arrive in London and
have these wonderful Olympic Games as though everything is nice and
rosy in the garden is unthinkable.”

John Armitt, the chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority,
urged Unite not to take action. ”Len and his colleagues have a
right to make their point, but I hope they don’t feel the need to
disrupt other people’s pleasure during the summer,” he said.

In November, George Osborne, Britain’s Treasury chief, announced
23 billion pounds ($37 billion) of additional spending cuts through
2017, extending a planned four-year program of 81 billion pounds
($129 billion) of budget trimming. He also capped public-sector pay
rises at 1 percent for two years.

Britain’s independent Office for Budget Responsibility estimates
job losses in the public sector will reach 710,000 by early 2017, a
rise from a previous forecast of 400,000 by the first quarter of
2016.

An estimated 2 million public workers – including paramedics,
teachers and even some employees from Cameron’s office – joined the
country’s largest strike in decades last November to draw attention
to government cuts.