LONDON – Paramedics, emergency crews, teachers and even some employees from the prime minister’s office took to the streets of Britain for the country’s largest strike in decades – drawing attention to government cuts but failing to bring the nation to a standstill.

Public sector employees staged the one-day walkout Wednesday over government demands that they work longer before receiving a pension and pay more in monthly contributions, part of austerity measures to tackle Britain’s 967 billion-pound ($1.5 trillion) debt.

The strike came a day after the government announced that public sector pay raises will be limited to 1 percent through 2014.

“The government wants us to work longer, pay more and at the end get less. How fair is that?” said Eleanor Smith, president of the UNISON trade union which represents about 1 million health, education and law enforcement staff. Smith joined pickets outside Birmingham Women’s Hospital in central England, where she works as a nurse.

Prime Minister David Cameron defended the government’s stance in Parliament, insisting that “as people live longer it’s only right and only fair that you should make greater contributions.”

“I don’t want to see any strikes, I don’t want to see schools closed, I don’t want to see problems at our borders, but this government must make responsible decisions,” Cameron told the House of Commons.

Labor unions in Britain said as many as 2 million public sector staff joined 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.

Treasury chief George Osborne said Tuesday the age for collecting state pensions would be raised to 67 in 2026, earlier than previously planned. His decision followed an official forecast that cut Britain’s predicted growth to a feeble 0.7 percent next year,.