Two Million Strike To Defend Pensions!

A section of London’s 50,000-strong march with PCS and NASUWT flags
A section of London’s 50,000-strong march with PCS and NASUWT flags

MORE than 4,000 striking council workers, NHS staff, teachers, lecturers, civil servants and students marched through Norwich on Wednesday, during the national strike in defence of pensions.

The march set off from Norwich City College heading for a rally on the steps of the City Hall.

The vast majority of schools were shut and over half of scheduled operations were cancelled at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital (N&N).

There were scores of picket lines around the city from early morning.

At the N&N there were strikers at every entrance.

Harry Seddon, the Unison Secretary at the N&N said: ‘Our pension scheme has been reformed recently and is in surplus.

‘We’re expected to pay an extra three per cent in contributions, which are not going in to the pensions scheme but are going to the Treasury to pay for the irresponsible banks.

‘One of the reasons they are attacking NHS pensions is to make them more palatable for private companies gobbling up the NHS.

‘Lots of people are joining in today.’

At the University of East Anglia (UEA) students joined lecturers on the picket line.

Matt Myles, Communications Officer of UEA Students Union said: ‘This university should belong to academics and students.

‘The strong protests and actions of this union, like that against the closure of the Music Department, are testament to the fact that the university does not belong to the academics and students.

‘Our union fully supports the UCU in fighting to prevent the privatisation of education.’

UCU UEA striker Wadud Miah said: ‘A one-day strike is only a start. It will make an impact, but not enough to reverse these changes.

‘We need a prolonged campaign with strike action and communication with the public.

‘I’m on a final salary pension, but we’re fighting for new joiners on a career average.

‘This coalition government is driven to sell off state assets to private sector bidders and plug the deficit with our money.’

There was a lively Unison picket at County Hall, the headquarters of Norfolk County Council.

Dave Hamer, said: ‘They’re not listening.

‘I would like to see the end of this government. They’re attacking all the public services.

‘The MOD declared losses of £60bn. Just think what we could do with it!

‘Pensions contributions should not go up and pensions themselves go down and we can’t work until we’re 68.’

Rosie Smith, Senior Unison Steward on the picket line at the Archaeology service, said: ‘Our concern is that the proposed increase in contributions to the pension scheme will mean that more people leave the scheme, which then puts the future of the scheme in jeopardy.’

NHS mental health staff in Unison were out in force at St Stephens Road. Mick Bishop said: ‘I’ve worked for the NHS for 30 years.

‘They’ve reorganised the NHS so many times.

‘I’ve been downgraded two bands and now the pensions increase means losing £75 a month.

‘The average pensions of part-time women workers in the NHS is £4,000 per annum.

‘Patients are suffering with the slashing of the Social Care budget.

‘The Tories are robbing us all over again. It goes straight into the pockets of the bankers. They’ve got to go.’

PCS reps across the UK reported that there was more activity than ever on strike day as they joined millions of members of other unions taking action to defend their pensions.

Severe disruptions were caused by the action across the UK in an unprecedented show of support for strike action with an estimated 84% of PCS members staying away from work.

Between 80 and 90% of union members, working for the Department for Work and Pensions took strike action, with more picket lines than ever reported outside workplaces, with the majority of offices unable to function normally.

At Heathrow Airport more than 90% of the 1,200 PCS members joined the strike. Only 10 cargo staff, who are non-union members, turned up for work on early shifts.

A number of closures were being reported at courts across England: the family court in Liverpool was closed, the city’s crown court was only open for remand hearings while there were no hearings at St Helens magistrates’ court or Nottingham magistrates’ court. There was also severe disruption at Northampton and Stoke combined courts.

At the Student Loans Company in Glasgow out of 1,200 staff only about 20 went into work.

At the Cabinet Office in London there was the best-ever turnout for strike action.

Across the city there were well-attended picket lines with the highest-ever number of PCS members striking at the Home Office in Marsham Street where there were 25 pickets and fewer than 50% of the workforce crossing the picket line.

There were also strong pickets at the Houses of Parliament, National Gallery and Imperial War Museum.

There was severe disruption at a number of museums in London with only the paying exhibitions managing to go ahead. At the British Museum only two rooms were open.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘We saw unprecedented support for the strike across the UK as public sector workers said they wanted justice on pensions. We witnessed a real increase in the number of strikers and picket lines.

‘The government is carrying out a massive raid on pensions, which is a reflection of unrelenting mismanagement of the economy by the government. Suffering and misery are a price the government wants us to pay. This is an all-out attack on public services.’

Meanwhile the GMB has confirmed that there is no pension deal on the table for local government workers and categorically confirm that no negotiations are taking place

GMB responded to the statement by Eric Pickles Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the House of Commons yesterday that local government talks were ‘close to a deal’.

Brian Strutton GMB National Secretary and leading for GMB in the national negotiations on pensions said, ‘Mr Pickles hasn’t even met the local government unions.

‘Instead he has passed the negotiating baton to council leaders but they have told GMB and the other unions they will not be in a position to negotiate until at least the middle of next month.

‘I can confirm there is no pension deal on the table for local government workers and categorically confirm that no negotiations are taking place.

‘That’s why we went on strike and that’s why we are calling for negotiations to take place urgently and seriously.’

Speaking at a rally for the public sector pensions strike in Birmingham National Indoor Arena, Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: ‘Today, history has been made – not by politicians – not by bankers and business leaders, but by the millions of ordinary men and women – few of them militants or hardened activists, many thousands who have never taken industrial action before, who, with courage and quiet resolve have said: “enough is enough”.

‘They are decent men and women, who on any other day of the year are working tirelessly for this country; dedicated – devoted – to the people, the families, the communities they serve; ensuring we are safe, healthy, our children educated, our future protected. Little noticed, rarely thanked, often maligned, taken for granted.

‘But today, for one day you’ll see them: the people we rely on for so much, gathering outside every school, every hospital, every library or public office, lining the high streets and filling in town squares – making their stand, with bravery and dignity. Most of them are women, many taking action for the very first time, tens of thousands of younger workers drawn into our union movement by this campaign.

‘Here in Birmingham over 10,000 Unison members have already been out twice this year, joined today by another 4,500 school staff bravely fighting back against a council making massive cuts to the wages of the lowest paid. Women like Jeanette, a part time home carer – today she earns just £281 a week, but this council wants to cut that by £85 a week.

‘And it’s brave men and women like Jeanette who are taking their stand today; sacrificing their own pay standing firm against intimidation sending a message, loud and clear: “You may take us for granted, but we will not be taken for fools; we may be loyal servants of the public, but we will not be made scapegoats for politicians too cowardly to turn to the bankers and say “you caused this crisis, you pay for it”.

‘Instead we’ve all been told: “Decent, secure pensions are a thing of the past.” Why? – because the banks won’t pay for the deficit they created. We’ve been told: “This country can no longer afford well-funded public services”. Why? – because the banks are avoiding paying their tax. We’ve been told: “We’ll all have to get used to high unemployment and falling wages”. Why? – because the banks aren’t lending or investing. And people are beginning to ask if the banks won’t let us have pensions, public services, good jobs and decent wages, then maybe it’s the banks that need to change.

‘And instead of putting bankers in charge of whole countries as we’re now seeing in Greece, Italy and throughout Europe maybe we should be putting the people in charge of the banks, and the stand we are making today is part of a wider awakening as people around the world demand an alternative to more cuts, more job losses, more poverty and austerity, enforced with a blatant denial of democracy. It’s the people against the powerful, the 99 per cent against the one per cent, the millions against the millionaires – and we know which side we are on.

‘So let the world take note of what we have achieved today. To those who thought the union movement was dead and irrelevant – today is your answer. To ministers who thought they could bully – today is your lesson, and your warning.

‘And to millions of working people, throughout the land suffering at the hands of this cruel coalition, close to giving up hope, let today be the day you take heart, take courage and resolve to stand and fight for what is right.

‘Hands off our pensions, hands off our public services, and while you’re at it you can hand back the keys to Downing Street.

‘Be in no doubt, that day will come. I can’t give you an exact date, but I know that today with this magnificent show of spirit and strength you’ve certainly brought it closer.

‘Be proud of what you have done today. The day you made your stand, the day you made a difference, the day you all made history and I am sure that one day we’ll look back and say today was the day we turned the tide.’

Later, in the afternoon, Prentis responded to David Cameron’s comment that the strike was a ‘damp squib’.

Prentis said: ‘I wouldn’t call two million people taking strike action a damp squib. Cameron is sounding increasingly desperate in his attacks on public service workers.

‘He has only to turn on the TV, or listen to the radio – or look out the window – to see the nurses, dinner ladies, paramedics, social workers, teaching assistants, lollipop ladies amongst others standing up for their pensions.

‘And the thousands of picket lines, demonstrations, rallies and events are not a figment of our imagination. These people are angry public servants who the Government has driven to the end of their tether.’

On the London march a group of student nurses from King’s College told News Line that they were on the march because they fully supported the fight to defend pensions and complained that the RCN had not balloted them for strike action.

Amy Couldrick, aged 21, said: ‘We all support the strike and feel we should have been balloted, but we weren’t.

‘I feel very strongly against privatisation of the NHS. If you look at the NHS and compare it to what things are like around the world it’s fantastic. It’s got to be defended.’

Katie Toler, RCN student nurse, aged 25, said: ‘I’m really looking forward to going into this career. But when you go into hospitals you can see the problems the cuts cause. Our course is 50/50 – half in class and half in hospitals.

‘The difference between doctors and nurses is that doctors treat and nurses care. But we’re so stretched that it’s getting to the position that we haven’t the resources to provide the care.’

RCN member Georgia Wright, age 20, said: ‘We should have been balloted. Everybody’s got the right to strike. We work hard and our pensions are under attack, the same as the other unions, so we should be on strike.

‘I know from talking to others in the RCN that they want to be here.’

RCN member Ruth Stilwell, aged 20, said: ‘I don’t think we get paid enough for the amount of work we do. Also I think it’s an outrage that they are going to make us work until the old age of 70. How can you enjoy your retirement?’

Irtaza Afzal, a law student at Kingston University, said: ‘I’ve been a socialist for a long, long time. I’ve studied the Bolshevic Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky and I think we are entering a revolutionary situation today.

‘Capitalism has failed and now I am really excited because the working class is rising up.

‘Look at the people here today. I think we are entering a revolutionary situation.

‘Lenin said “Revolution never awaits a formal majority” and today it’s not a question of a formal majority in parliament. It’s about coming onto the streets and building a socialist party.’

Haringey Unison shop steward Steve Bacon said:

‘This is the euthanasia of our pension schemes. We’re being downgraded to second class citizens. It’s an equalities issue.

‘Today’s a great day, seeing the union strength. We’ve got to stop the cuts in public services. It was a real kick in the teeth to us yesterday when the Chancellor announced a 1% pay cap for the next two years.

‘Also Chase Farm Hospital has to be saved. I will be joining the march on 10th December.’

Sean Fox, Haringey Local Government Unison Branch Secretary said: ‘There’s great anger over the planned closure of Chase Farm Hospital.

‘It’s our local hospital and it must be saved. We’ll bring our branch banner on the march, publicise it amongst our members and bring a contingent.’

Earlier on Wednesday morning, at a lively UCU picket outside Harrow College, Deepak Sethi told News Line: ‘I am a newly-qualified teacher. It’s my first year and I have 35 years of work ahead of me.

‘Any increase in contributions will obviously affect my salary. If the government have their way I will not have a decent pension to look forward to.

‘I work seven days a week because of the workload. I think we should keep striking until we win.

The long term cause of a decent pension and salary is worth it.’

All entrances at Northwick Park and St Marks Hospital in Harrow were covered by several picket lines.

Peter Nzekwe, the Unison branch Secretary of NW London Hospitals, told News Line: ‘I agree with an indefinite general strike. Why should we be punished? The government always set upon us public sector workers.

‘The patience we have is what gives us strength. The government should be targetting bankers not us.

‘They are closing most of the hospitals in NW London and they are not looking at the effects on the community.

‘I will organise for a delegation from NW London Hospitals to attend the march to save Chase Farm Hospital.’

Anne Hill, a Unite member on the hospital picket line, said: ‘I am angry they are planning to close Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals.

‘We are overwhelmed with too many patients at Northwick Park Hospital. We need more hospitals, more staff and more money for the NHS, not less.’

At Ealing Hospital, Unite Staff Side Chair, Banso Loi, told News Line: ‘We have had enough, we are expected to pay more and get less.’

Unite member, Ossie Mahere, who works in the outpatients department, said: ‘The economic crisis is the government’s problem. Why should we pay for it. This government should be kicked out.’

Unison Branch Chair Rachel Emerson, said: ‘We are defending our pensions and working conditions, and also the NHS, because if we don’t make a stand it will not be left for our children.

‘Already at Ealing the Urgent Care Centre has been sold off to a private company.’

At Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, Radiographer Charlotte Holt exclaimed: ‘We transfer from beds to scanners about three tonnes of patients a day. That equates to an elephant every two-and-a-half days.

‘Is this fair for a 68-year-old? That is how long we are expected to work.’