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Nationwide strike hits Britain

November 30, 2011 |  4:34 am

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Up to 2 million public-sector workers walked off the job in Britain on Wednesday, potentially the biggest nationwide strike to hit the country in a generation.

Teachers, border patrol agents, nurses, transport workers and others participated in the mass action to protest government plans to make them work longer before they retire and to contribute more to their pensions.

Officials insist that such changes are unavoidable in light of longer life spans and the need to rein in government spending. Unions and workers say that austerity measures are hitting them disproportionately hard even as executives at taxpayer-supported banks continue to collect huge bonuses.

Schools across the country were shut down or operating with skeleton staffs Wednesday, and parents scrambled to find substitute child care for their kids. Thousands of non-emergency procedures at hospitals were canceled. Courthouses were also hit.

In good news for travelers, disruptions at British airports were reported to be minimal. The government had warned ahead of the strike that passengers arriving at Heathrow Airport in London, Europe's busiest airport, might be subjected to waits of up to 12 hours to clear immigration and customs. At least one airline canceled its flights to Heathrow.

In the northern English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the subway system was idle, forcing riders to find other ways to get to work.

The government denounced the strikers as acting in bad faith and said disagreements should be worked out at the bargaining table.

"These strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are going on," Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday.

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-- Henry Chu

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