LONDON - Big Labor looks the same wherever you go: petulant, irrational and wholly aggrieved beyond its means. I'm here on vacation with family as some 750,000 public-sector employees strike in protest over modest pension reform proposals. It's a taste of Wisconsin on the Thames.
U.K. government teachers are just as shameless and entitlement-mongering as their American counterparts. More than half of England's schools shut down on Thursday as union members took to the streets.
Borrowing a trademark tactic employed by Democrats Against Fiscal Responsibility from Madison and Milwaukee, Wis., to Washington, D.C., British educators used their students and children as kiddie human shields. "HANDS OFF ME MA'S PENSION" read a doe-eyed little girl's sign in Liverpool. The militant National Union of Teachers plastered their placards with infant-sized, pastel-colored handprints.
Simon Shaw, a teachers' union rep in Woodford Green, complained to his local newspaper: "The government is stealing our money, and working till 65 or 68 is not realistic. How do teachers relate to children or have the energy for them at that age?" Asra Haque, a union protester and teacher in Kingsburgy, piled on: "What the government is doing makes us feel like we are part of a dictatorship."
On Twitter, a socialist activist proclaimed "solidarity" between strikers in London and democracy marchers in Egypt. The supposedly fascist measures at issue involve an average hike in teachers' pension contributions of about 3 percent and, in keeping with demographic reality, a gentle nudge in the retirement age to 68 by 2020.
Striking teachers waved banners crying for "FAIR PENSIONS FOR ALL," but as Treasury statistics released in England revealed this week, public-union workers rake in the most generous pensions of all. A "mid-ranking teacher on ś32,000 a year will receive a final salary pension that is the equivalent of having built up a ś500,000 pension pot.
This is 20 times higher than the average private sector scheme, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics," the U.K. Telegraph reported. "Private sector workers would have to save more than 20 percent of their salaries for 40 years -- more than ś500 a month for a similarly paid person -- to amass the same amount in a defined contribution pension." And each and every British family "faces a total bill of ś13,500" for the striking teachers' pensions.
Defined benefits plans are increasingly an anachronism in the modern workplace, but Big Labor obstinately refuses to get with the times. More sobering for the children for whom the teachers' unions purport to speak, the U.K. faces a future that is "old and broke." An analysis by the pro-free-market think tank Reform released here this week shows that Britain faces a demographic "timebomb" of an estimated 1.4 million seniors over 65 in the next five years -- adding a tax burden of ś32billion for pensions and nearly ś40billion for healthcare by 2041 (not adjusted for inflation).
The report's authors make conclusions that sound eerily familiar to entitlement-reformers across the pond: "The biggest challenge in encouraging action is that people think that dealing with the problem can be put off. Often population aging is seen as a problem for 2040 or 2050, which is well beyond the attention span of many policy makers and media commentators. But the fiscal effects will be felt much earlier than that. The case for moving quickly is also not just a fiscal one. Any changes will create a group of people who lose out in the transition. Putting off reform will increase the costs of change and make the group of transitional losers larger."
Left-wing teachers around the world spend many hours lecturing their students about the need for a "sustainable environment." Too bad they don't practice what they teach when it comes to their own unsustainable demands.