LONDON (AP) — U.K. border staff joined teachers, hospital workers and weather forecasters today in Britain’s largest strike in decades, but arriving airline passengers appeared to escape the chaos that had been predicted.

The one-day walkout has been called to oppose government demands that public sector staff work longer before receiving a pension and contribute more money each month — plans that are part of government austerity measures to get a grip on Britain’s high borrowing levels.

Labor unions said as many as 2 million public sector staff were joining the strike, which would make it the largest since the infamous industrial dispute known as the Winter of Discontent in 1979, which presaged the arrival of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister.

Protesters were also denouncing sharp public spending cuts, the government extended Tuesday. Following a current freeze on public pay next year, pay raises will be limited to 1 percent through 2014.

London’s Heathrow Airport and scores of airlines had warned that international travelers could be held in lines for up to 12 hours at immigration halls as a result of staff shortages.

But airport managers said flights arriving early today from the United States, Asia and Europe were largely unaffected, in part because of contingency plans to draft staff in to man border desks. Those extra staff included members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s policy unit and his press secretary.

“Immigration queues are currently at normal levels,” Heathrow’s operator BAA said in a statement. “There still remains a possibility of delays for arriving passengers later in the day.”

Britain’s government said less than a third of government civil service staff had walked out and that more staff than expected had showed at ports and airports. But more than half of England’s 21,700 state schools were closed, and around three-quarters of schools in the U.K. could eventually be forced to shut early, the Cabinet Office said.

Some protesters wore red T-shirts with the slogan, “Get Angry and Fight Back,” a variation of the British wartime propaganda poster, “Keep Calm and Carry on.”



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