Workers Demand A General Strike To Defend Their Pensions

The banner of the Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists  among the crowds on Thursday’s march
The banner of the Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists among the crowds on Thursday’s march

750,000 public sector workers struck to defend their pensions on Thursday.

70,000 of them marched through London with banners flying, determined to see the coalition attacks off, and denouncing Labour leader Miliband as a collaborator.

There were banners from branches from all four trade unions involved in the action, as well as political banners, including that of the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Young Socialists.

The WRP led the chanting, with calls for a general strike to bring down the coalition and to bring in a workers government and socialism.

There were chants throughout the march to defend pensions, jobs and wages and not to allow workers to be driven back to the 19th century with new anti-union laws.

On the march, Gloria Rodrigues, Oaklands School NUT, Tower Hamlets, told News Line: ‘We have to go for it. If we don’t do anything they will just carry on doing what they want.

‘Why should we accept it. Without us they can’t do anything.

‘I think a general strike is the only way and not for one day, we have to do it for one week or one month.

‘We have to do it until we win.’

Trainee teacher Louise Cobb said: ‘Everything that’s happening at the moment is completely unfair.

‘I am starting my PGCE training in September and I’m getting no funding, no grant. I’m having to take out a full-whack loan for the year.

‘That’s on top of the loan I had to take out to graduate.

‘I think there should be a general strike where all public sector workers and private sector and mums and dads, the whole country, comes out.

‘This government wasn’t even voted in. It hasn’t got a mandate for this.’

Patrick Bailey, a learning support assistant, said: ‘I’m here to support the teaching profession against the savage cuts and not just the teaching profession, the health service and the whole Welfare State.

‘This government is taking the opportunity to do as much damage as it can while it can.

‘It’s got to be got rid of. I think there will be a general strike.’

Labour MP John McDonnell said: ‘Ed Miliband has completely miscalculated the situation.

‘He has failed to appreciate the strength of feeling of these workers.

‘He needs to get onside now.’

McDonnell added: ‘If the government doesn’t start negotiating seriously then it it will result in a large-scale coordinated action, ie a general strike.’

Sam Hurst, Wandsworth NUT, said: ‘We need all the unions to be supporting each other.

‘It can’t be left to a few to stand up and bear the brunt.

‘Everyone needs to be involved.

‘My biggest worry is the privatisation of education.

‘That’s what the government are doing and the public are unaware of it.

‘Academies are the privatisation of education. This government is forcing schools to become Academies.’

Gaby Thomas, Camden NUT, said: ‘I work in a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) and I work with children who have desperate situations at home and a very poor start in life.

‘And the sinister thing about this government is that they want to privatise PRU and turn them into old-style reform schools and bring the military in.

‘We have got a bloody society that is trying to split us apart. We have to unite in an absolute general strike to get this government out.’

Sunvari Anitha, Lincoln University UCU, said: ‘This government doesn’t care if the popular opinion is against it decimating the Welfare State.

‘I’m here to defend our Welfare State and to fight for us and our children.’

Wayne Dutfield, PCS British Museum, said: ‘We’re all out today to defend our pensions.

‘The country’s economic crisis is nothing to do with civil servants and public sector workers and I’m not just sticking up for my pension, but also my children’s. What’s it going to be like for them?

‘Today’s action will send the government a strong message. the government is ratcheting things up and more and more unions will have to get involved.’

Catherine Moore, ATL Hampshire, said: ‘My union is taking national strike action for the first time in its history. We feel so strongly.

‘I think this government is going to have to be defeated.

‘A lot of my family work in the nursing profession and they want to be involved in this fight as well.

Their pensions are under attack too.’

Shannon Askew, also from ATL Hampshire, said: ‘There will definitely be more strikes and I fear that the government will change the law to make it illegal to strike, but people must have the right to voice their opinion and show solidarity and fight for what they believe in. How else can we do it?

‘People won’t stop standing up for what they believe in.’

Kuldip Bhogal, a retired teacher, said: ‘Every teacher should have an appropriate pension to survive.

‘I’m appalled and disgusted by what Ed Miliband said.

‘I’ve never crossed a picket line.

‘Miliband doesn’t represent the working class and most people in the Labour Party don’t either.

‘I would strongly support a general strike.’

At the rally in Westminster Central Hall, NUT General Secretary Christine Blower said: ‘The response from all of our unions, the NUT, ATL, UCU and the PCS has been fantastic.

‘There has been a lot of talking from government but not listening.

‘Public sector pensions are set to fall. People are already working to 65.

‘The basic thing is they’re trying to make us pay more, work longer and get less.

‘We are launching today our campaign “Fair Pensions For All”.

‘We know people in the private sector are also suffering.

‘This government is trying to implement a race to the bottom. We are right to defend public sector, private sector and the state pension.

‘They are all affordable.’

ATL General Secretary Mary Bousted said: ‘We’ve been called irresponsible. How dare they!

‘We are here because we believe in the force of reason.

‘I’m very proud to be here and I’m very proud of my members.

‘But I’m not proud of our politicians. From them, we’ve had lies, damned lies and distorted statistics.

‘Public servants are being expected to pay for the £850 billion paid to bail out the bankers.

‘Ed Miliband says our strike is a mistake. Ed Miliband has been a disgrace,’ she said to loud boos at Miliband’s name.

‘He should be ashamed of himself.’

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘Eighty-five per cent of PCS members are on strike today, that’s over 200,000 people.

‘We’ve got members on strike today in Jobcentres, airports, police stations, courts, all museums.

‘Jurors have been sent home, there are long queues at airports and ports.

‘Our members in Downing Street are on strike.

‘There has been 4,000 marching in Brighton, 6,000 in Bristol.

‘When Ed Miliband tells MPs to cross picket lines, he is a disgrace.

‘But there are MPs who have refused to cross the picket line, such as John McDonnell, here today.

‘The government minister Maude this morning said this morning that our pensions are untenable.

‘The government reminds me of Maxwell. He robbed the private sector pensions. This government are trying to rob the public sector pensions.

‘And this is a wider attack; they want to attack the Welfare State, stigmatise the unemployed.

‘Everything we hold dear is at stake.

‘There has been brilliant support from the unions today and what is happening here is also happening elsewhere.

‘I am proud to say my colleague from the Greek tax collector’s union is here today.

‘Let’s send a message of solidarity to Greece,’ he said to loud applause.

Serwotka concluded: ‘And it looks like we are going to do it all again in the autumn and then Unison, the GMB, Unite will be out with us.

‘If it’s three quarters of a million today, it will be four million in October.’

Annie Holder of the UCU said: ‘Why should I and millions like me pay for the stupidity of the banking sector?’

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘An attack on teachers and lecturers is an attack on education and that is an attack on hope.’

Mark Campbell, London Met UCU, said: ‘Direct public funding for universities is being cut by 80 per cent, so working-class universities like mine are cutting courses by 70 per cent.’

Thursday morning, NUT members at Acland Burghley School in Camden, northwest London, were on the picket line from 7.30am.

Science teacher and NUT member Sean McHugh told News Line: ‘We’ve come along to picket because we think the government’s plans to change our pensions aren’t fair.

‘They are going to be asking us to work longer, for me that’s seven more years.

‘They are going to be increasing my contributions from six per cent to nine per cent, a fifty per cent increase.

‘In addition, they are changing the rate at which we get paid from RPI (Retail Price Index) to CPI (Consumer Price Index).

‘They are changing the final salary to average salary pensions which is a big cut.

‘The general feeling is outrage.’

Another science teacher and NUT member, Alicia Murtoff, added: ‘We’re paying for the faults of others.

‘I heard recently that the government are reducing the amount of jobs of people that should make sure companies are paying the right amount of tax.

‘It’s an injustice that MPs pay pensions contributions of one per cent of their salary, and we’re being asked to pay 9.6 per cent.

‘Also, MPs are on final salary pensions.

‘They need to cut the lies not education.’

NUT member Zita Lomax, a design and technique teacher, said: ‘It shouldn’t be about losing our pensions.

‘It should be about everyone having the opportunity of having a fair pension – in the private sector as well as the public sector.

‘It’s been shown that our pension is sustainable and affordable.

‘What isn’t sustainable is having a 68-year-old teacher in the classroom.

‘People need to join together, as losing our pension affects people who are not in the public sector because families’ income will change.

‘I think people should get together for a general strike if the government is not willing to negotiate, which it isn’t.’

The picket line at the British Library at Kings Cross were in good spirits despite the pesterings of extra security and Human Resources management.

Floyd, outside the staff entrance, said: ‘I agree with bringing the government down, but the Labour Party haven’t earned the right to power. Ed Miliband has spat in our faces!’

Outside the public entrance, many people were stopping to offer their support.

Kwame spoke to News Line: ‘There’s a pay freeze, job cuts, pension cuts and job insecurity.

‘These politicians are hypocritical. It’s all “do as I say, not as I do”.

‘What workers cannot put up with is that all this is caused by bankers, yet they still find money to bomb Libya.

‘My union is negotiating in good faith, but we are expecting little to come out of them.

‘What we need is a Tahrir Square-type of movement, like in Egypt, when they got rid of Mubarak.

‘There has to be a general strike involving all the unions.

‘Eventually, society has to change to meet the needs of people, not just the minority and that means nationalising the banks.’

Theresa Raftery, the chair of West London DWP PCS, speaking on the picket line outside Southall Jobcentre, said: ‘This strike is just a precursor.

‘It shows we can get unions to join together.

‘We hope there will be a general strike in October and not just for one day.

‘We’ve got to kick this government out.’

She added: ‘I’m going to Slough later on, where there is a rally for PCS members and teachers.

‘It’s not fair what this government is going to do, this is the second year we’ve had a pay freeze.’

On the picket line at Southall College, UCU rep Sally Colston said: ‘To have people working in education acting in solidarity with other public sector workers is a very inspiring thing.’

Her colleague and fellow UCU member, Ravinder Sihra, said: ‘Today will have a massive impact. We’re all together. No longer can this government see us as an easy target.’

On the picket line outside Hayes Jobcentre, Rashpal Parma, PCS rep, said: ‘We are very angry and disappointed at being told we have to pay more for our pensions and get less, and on top of that suffer a two-year pay freeze.

‘This makes it very difficult for our members to survive.

‘All public sector workers are facing the same attacks, so they all must come out together.’

Pickets were out at the jobcentre and tax offices in Luton as PCS members came out in support of the one-day strike.

400 striking civil servants and teachers along with delegations from Unite attended a rally held in the town centre.

Luton North Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins brought greetings and solidarity to the rally making it plain that he disagreed with Miliband’s attack on the strike.

He said: ‘I was supposed to attend Westminster this morning but I wouldn’t cross a picket line so I am here instead.’

The rally was addressed also by Jonathon Lovett, invited from the recent Enfield strike of journalists.

Lovett said to applause: ‘I hope this action leads on to a general strike.

‘The NUJ fully support this strike as we are all in it together – this government is attacking jobs and conditions all  over.

‘In the past few years 1 in 4 journalist jobs have gone. We came out on strike in Enfield over job losses and proved that striking is the only way of fighting against attacks. We need more and bigger strikes.’

Peter Allison of Unite told the rally that Unite had not balloted yet, but would be there soon. ‘These are huge attacks on the Public Sector workers but private sector workers know it’s them next,’ he warned.

Sarah Anderson, Central Beds NUT Secretary, told News Line: ‘There has been a terrific response from teachers to this strike in defence of our pensions and the attempt by the government to make us work longer for less.

‘Teachers will end up paying between 50 pounds to 100 pounds a month more and we just can’t afford it.

‘This is not a dispute between the private and public sector workers – we should all be working for co-ordinated strike action between the two sectors to defend working people from the government attacks.

‘We didn’t cause the huge budget deficit and we shouldn’t pay for it with our pensions.’

As part of yesterday’s 750,000-strong strike over pensions by NUT, ATL, UCU and PCS members, pickets were held across Norwich, with a large rally held outside the Forum in the afternoon.

Crowds cheered and clapped as local youth, trade unionists and campaigners spoke against the austerity measures being imposed by the coalition government.

Speaking from a picket line outside Norwich City College, lecturer and UCU branch secretary Mark Hughes said: ‘We are striking over the government’s assault on pensions.

‘Our members have been on a pay freeze for the past three years, and for the first time in thirty years wages have been falling in real terms.

‘As our conditions are attacked on all sides, we have to safeguard our members when they reach retirement age.

‘£3 million has been taken out of the funding for City College, with 150 jobs lost over the past three years.

‘The government is on the wrong track – these austerity measures will prevent growth in the economy.’

Another lecturer at the rally said: ‘The government has to realise that they cannot unload their problems and their cuts on 7 million public service workers.’

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