Briefs: Austerity killing in Britain; new Greece strikes; Polish workers take on union busters

Britain: Austerity killing the poor

Cuts to social spending could be killing large numbers of vulnerable people in Britain, Public Health England said on February 16, as new figures show last year featured the largest rise in the national death rate for decades.

TeleSUR English said the next day that the new preliminary figures from the Office for National Statistics show mortality rates last year rose by 5.4% compared with 2014.

Advisers to Public Health England warned government's cuts to social services could raise death rates. Oxford University Professor Danny Dorling, who advises Public Health England on life expectancy, said: “When we look at 2015, we are not just looking at one bad year. We have seen excessive mortality — especially among women — since 2012.”

“I suspect the largest factor here is cuts to social services — to meals on wheels, to visits to the elderly,” he added.

Since 2010, the British government has pushed harsh austerity measures, mainly in the form of deep spending cuts.

Greece: Strikes over pension cuts, privatisation

A series of protests rocked Greece on February 16 over the privatisation of a key port, as well as proposed pension reforms, TeleSUR English said that day.

Dockworkers from the Omyle union began a 48-hour strike over the sale of 67% of Piraeus Port Authority to China's Cosco. The privatisation of ports was part of the set of conditions agreed to by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government in exchange for bailout loans.

Tsipras froze the privatisation of key industries and assets, such as ports, early in his first term before eventually agreeing to the demands of the Eurozone lenders.

Court proceedings in Greece were also halted due to industrial action by Greek bar associations over pension reforms. The week before, Greek agricultural workers held mass protests against the government's proposed pension reforms.

Elementary and secondary school teachers also launched strikes on February 17.

Poland: Workers take on union busters

Packaging workers met in Brussels on February 18 to discuss the next step in their fight to beat “blatant union busting” at a firm in Poland, the Morning Star said that day.

The company, Smurfit Kappa, has imposed a pay deal and a raft of anti-union measures. It came after a successful organising campaign by affiliates of the Uni Global union federation that led to hundreds of workers becoming unionised.

The company has banned union literature, talking outside of official breaks and union meetings on company premises. Supervisors have also been told to keep a close watch on known unionists.

Uni Global graphical division head Andy Snoddy said: “These measures are outrageous and a serious attack on unions and workers' rights. It is totally unacceptable that Polish workers are discriminated against and treated differently than Smurfit Kappa workers in the rest of Europe.”

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