‘It’s going well, union members are not coming in. Obviously, we want to protect our pensions,’ Camden UNISON housing department shop steward Lesley Amber told News Line yesterday.
She was speaking at one of the many picket lines across the country on the morning of yesterday’s pensions strike by over 1.5 million local government workers.
Nine local government workers unions are fighting government plans to scrap the 85 rule which allows council workers to retire at 55 on a full pensions after 30 years service.
The government says the local government pension age has to be upped to 65 and final salary pensions replaced by pensions based on average salaries.
Amber added: ‘Pensions are being protected for civil servants and teachers but not for local government workers.
‘And we don’t accept two-tier pensions – everybody should be protected whether they are new or not.
‘If we made a deal for us against new people, they could come back and attack our pensions later on.
‘We have to win this. We are planning further action. We’ll see how today goes.’
On the picket line outside the north London borough’s Town Hall UNISON convenor for central services, George Binnette said: ‘We’ve been here since 7am.
‘The strike is more solid than during the London Weighting dispute.
‘Ninety per cent of Housing Benefits staff are out, virtually all libraries are shut and all but one secondary schools are shut or severely affected.
‘People are very angry, partly because other public sector workers have got protection.
‘Also, more and more people are realising that big private sector bosses have been feathering their own nests, as have MPs and judges.
‘People feel this is grossly unjust.
‘And it’s been a massive breach of contract by the employer to attack our pensions in this way.
‘We were recruited on the basis of the possibility of retiring on a full pension at the age of 60.
‘Now, the government and employers are pushing up the retirement age to 65.
‘In some cases, this will mean losing up to 30 per cent of pensions pay out.
‘I welcome the fact that UNISON’s leadership has stopped donations to the Labour Party’s local election campaign.
‘We will almost certainly be out again. We are determined to build the momentum and sustain a fight until we win our demand in full around the Local Government Pension Scheme.’
At Holmes Road, Kentish Town, building works depot, UNISON shop steward Steve Outram told News Line: ‘We’re here to fight for the right of the members and to save our pensions.
‘We want to get the point home to the government that we are not going to roll over and accept their views on the policy of the 85 year rule.
‘That affects millions of people who have paid into this scheme for many years.
‘Some people have done 30 years service, and now are being told they have to give up their rights to a decent pension.
‘If the government wants to give us back the £14 billion we’ve paid in, we can have a decent pension.’
UNISON member Billy O’Shea added: ‘We are striking to defend our pensions.
‘I don’t want to work until I’m 70, I want to retire at 60 or sooner.
‘I always thought Labour was for the working class but this government isn’t.
‘Blair and Brown won’t get my vote.
‘We are 100 per cent behind the union to win this fight.’
GMB trade union shop steward and health and safety rep. Dave Burrows said: ‘They want us to work to 65 and I’ve heard they want us to work until we’re 70.
‘They’ve not put any money into the pot, so we’re supposed to work until we are dead.
‘We’re against that.
‘I can’t see one day’s strike getting the government to change its mind.
‘I suppose there will have to be more strikes in the future.
‘We’re out to win, otherwise there’s no point.
‘The strike is solid. We’ve been here since 7am and no-one has crossed our picket line.’
Both GMB and UNISON members turned out in force in Lambeth, southwest London, to picket the various council departments.
UNISON members were picketing from 7am at the Housing Department.
Gary Whiting told News Line: ‘So far a couple of people have turned back and its early yet.
‘Lots of people are not turning up at all, it’s a pretty solid strike.
‘The issue of pensions is very important for everyone.
‘Some people have come to work because they think they will be disciplined, but when we explain the situation to them, they’re ok and they don’t go in.
‘I’m certainly not working until I’m 65, but that’s what they’re trying to get people to do.’
At west London’s Hammersmith Town Hall, GMB convenor Linda Elvin told News Line: ‘We have 1,500 members involved in today’s action, including Parking Control, Social Services, schools, and Housing.
‘We have to look to the future, they are expecting us to work longer and deny pensions when we should be getting a better pension.’
UNISON member Maureen Locherty said: ‘I’m angry the government is going back on what it said.
‘I’m not a militant person but everyone should be out on strike because if they get away with this they will get away with anything.’
At the Bagley’s Lane depot pickets were out from 3.30am.
TGWU branch secretary Ian Burgess said: ‘I am a Labour Party member but I think what they are doing is appalling.
‘Our argument is with the government not the local authority and we have had 100, per cent support from our members.’
‘I am a member of the Labour Party but what this government is doing is appalling.
‘They are trying to create a two-tier workforce over pensions and the unions should oppose this.’
TGWU member Roy French said ‘I’ve been here nine years and this is the first official strike we’ve held and its down to government bureacracy.
‘There has been more money for street cleaning recently but its only until the local elections in May because on May 8th they’re sticking the knife in by cutting the refuse crews down from five men to four.’