1.5 Million Take Strike Action

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Enthusiastic picket line at the Southern Grove Depot in Tower Hamlets
Enthusiastic picket line at the Southern Grove Depot in Tower Hamlets

YESTERDAY’s massive one-day strike stopped whole regions of the UK, but is only the start of the campaign, local government workers warned.

Striking local government workers packing out Central Halls, Westminster, shouted slogans at the end of the rally demanding a national march to take the fight forward to defend their pensions.

A flustered rally chairman, UNISON Greater London convenor Alan Jarman, replied that there wasn’t a march planned, but then said there will be a march on May 1st for trade union freedom.

Earlier, Ed Blissett, the GMB London regional secretary, won big applause when he said: ‘I say to the government, if you can spend billions of pounds to wage war in Iraq, then you can find a few millions to pay low paid workers what they deserve.’

He stressed: ‘Everyone who pays in all their working lives expects to be paid back at the end of their working lives.’

‘If MPs can have what they get promised, why can’t low paid workers who graft for the public every day get what they are promised?’

He concluded: ‘Tony Blair, pay them what they deserve!’

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis opened the speeches, saying: ‘Workers across the country are standing shoulder to shoulder.’

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

Angry public service workers were picketing all over the country.

In Norwich there was a 300 strong picket at Bethel Street Library.

Kevin O’Grady, branch secretary of Norwich City Council branch of Unison told News Line: ‘If the government choose to ignore us we will continue taking action, from selective action up to and including an all-out strike. We are not going to let them ride roughshod over us.’

Cath, senior steward at Norwich City library added, ‘We represent low paid members and we’re asking for the same deal as other workers. And we’re prepared to keep going until we have the same deal as “final salary members” retiring at sixty.

‘I feel let down because that was the contract I signed. Now they want to change that contract without consultation and want to impose the two-tier pension scheme on us.’

Occupational therapists Debs and Anne-Marie were very clear, ‘This action is a matter of principle. It’s our money that’s gone into our pensions. I bet their pensions are protected and what about the knock-on effects to the younger generation and also those who worked all their lives and are about to retire.

‘I think we should have a general strike. We’ve got to outdo them!’

In London, Haringey UNISON branch official Glynn Rowlands told News Line: ‘We are very pleased with a very effective strike.

‘It’s heartening to see all the unions joining together to take action.

‘If the government doesn’t take notice we will have to step up the action.’

Another local UNISON branch secretary, Sean Fox, added: ‘I’m pleased. It’s solid all over.

‘Most schools are closed or at least have only skeleton staff’.

Pickets in the GMB and other unions told News Line that they were in total agreement with UNISON.

‘We don’t come out very often’ one said, ‘but we didn’t sign up for these contracts so we feel strongly about taking action and will come out again if nothing happens.’

Three hundred striking Unison, GMB and other trade unionists marched through Luton town centre at lunchtime yesterday, as part of the one-day strike that closed down Britain.

Unison Branch secretary Christina told News Line: ‘I think we will have to take more action.

‘My hope is that the government sees sense, but I do not really think that they will.

Addressing the rally Jed Peck, a NATFHE representative from Dunstable College, brought the support of the NATFHE union to the strikers.

Peck said: ‘The explosion in France is showing the way forward. We need to unite and fight this bosses’ government on all fronts.’