‘We are digging in for a big dispute’–Prentis

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‘I’m ecstatic to see the people out on the picket line today, from different unions – TGWU, GMB, UNISON – it’s inspiring,’ east London UNISON member Mike Murat enthused to News Line, Tuesday morning.

He was taking part in the massive over one million-strong pensions strike by local government workers across the UK.

Murat was among those picketing Southern Grove council depot in Tower Hamlets.

He added: ‘We’ve had a very reasonable response. Whole sections of the building are closed, the press always underestimate strikes.

‘Tensions should stay as they are – the government are having a go at the NHS. That affects everybody.

‘Blair and Bush are liars. Blair misled us over Iraq.

‘He said he had a calling from God. Well he will be judged here.

‘He’s been costing a lot of lives. He’s not acting in the workers’ interest.’

Terry and Barbara were picketing the training centre in Tower Hamlets.

Terry said: ‘At the end of the day, it’s the young ones that are going to suffer most.

‘It’s not just about our pensions.’

Barbara added: ‘They make you work longer, and get less. It’s not fair.

‘We get little enough at the moment.’

At East Ham Town Hall, Folkstone Depot refuse collector Alphonso Swift told News Line: ‘There is total exploitation of the workers.

‘We are honest, hard workers.

‘The government is not giving us equal opportunity and therefore I thank our convenor Michael Gavan for the good things he has done.’

Caretaker Barry Walters added: ‘I’m an agency worker.

‘It’s not just about the money, it’s about equal rights and justice.

‘People need to stand up for their rights.

‘You should not just think of yourself as an individual but for people who get mistreated in their jobs.

‘All agency workers should come out and stand up for their rights, and not only watch the money.

‘This Blair government should step down now!’

Linett Lebrun, GMB/APEX staff representative at Newham College of Further Education, said: ‘What we’re saying now, is we just want to protect our pensions and should keep parity with teachers, the police and health workers, who are able to retire at 60.

‘The government and employers want to remove the 85 year rule, but there’s more to follow.

‘We want to maintain what we currently have.

‘This is affecting the lowest paid workers.

‘More than 70 per cent are women – like cooks, cleaners, classroom assistants, support staff in schools and colleges.

‘They make excuses about the time women take off work.

‘But women go back and buy back the years they missed out to meet the 85 years rule.’

Queueing to go into the afternoon rally of over 1,000 strikers that packed out Central Halls, Westminster, Waltham Forest UNISON member Diane Lowe told News Line: ‘I’m angry.

‘I’ve been off sick for a year with breast cancer.

‘I’ve come back to work because I have to. I need the money, you can’t live on the pittance of incapacity benefit.

‘I’d be happy to retire at 60, to be alive at 60. Now they are telling me I’ve go to work until I’m 65. It’s disgusting!

‘They are taking away our rights.

‘Workers are dying younger because they are having to work harder.

‘I want to see the end of Blair.’

Meanwhile, NIPSA, the north of Ireland’s largest trade union said Tuesday’s ‘public service strike over government plans to cut pension entitlement’ had been a success.

A spokesperson said that the response level of NIPSA members to the strike call had been high, with members manning pickets on council offices, Education and Library Board premises, the Housing Executive, schools and a range of other public bodies.

NIPSA General Secretary John Corey, addressing a packed lunchtime rally in Belfast’s Transport House, said: ‘The message to go from the tens of thousands of public servants on strike today is that we public service trade union members are not going to roll over and accept that any one group of public servants should have far less pension rights and benefits than other public service groups.’

Corey concluded: ‘We cannot rule out further days of strike action, but we hope the government will respond by returning to serious negotiations over the fundamental right of public sector workers.’

In London, first speaker at the Westminster rally was UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis, who later read out messages of support from the striking CGT union in France, the Verd.i public sector union in Germany, and Italian public sector union CGIL.

He said there were also messages of support from Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Switzerland, Cyprus and the Georgian trade unions who he said would be holding a picket outside the British embassy yesterday.

Prentis told the rally: ‘Twelve unions are taking part in today’s massive action.

‘There is burning resentment against what the Tory Local Government Association employers and the Labour government are doing.

‘It’s disgraceful – local government workers are being denied the same protection of other public sector workers.’

He pledged: ‘This is not just one day of action, we are digging in for a big dispute.’

He added: ‘Our pensions money was raided to help pay the Council Tax.

‘They want us to work longer and pay more contributions. Well, I say we are not going to do it.’

He added: ‘To those who think this is a one-day wonder – think again.’

Prentis concluded to applause: ‘We will not stand by and allow diktat by parliament, we’re here for the long term.’

GMB London region secretary Ed Blissett was cheered when he attacked Blair over spending billions on the Iraq war but not finding a few millions for local government workers’ pensions.

Blissett told the rally: ‘I salute all the pickets that have been out before dawn making this the biggest and most powerful dispute since 1926.

‘Everyone who is paying in all their working life expects to be paid back at the end of their working life.

‘That is all we are asking.’

He stressed: ‘Low paid workers become low paid pensioners.’

He said: ‘I call on the government to deliver on their promises.’

TGWU national secretary Diana Holland told the rally: ‘Public and private sector workers are standing together.

‘CBI director Digby Jones said this strike is a disgrace.

‘To suggest that local government workers are being treated better that private sector workers is a disgrace.’

She slammed the ‘suggestion that it’s wrong that people are living longer’ adding: ‘It’s fantastic that people are living longer but it’s no good living longer in poverty.’

She concluded: ‘We want justice for all.’