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Unite strikers and their regional officers gather outside the King’s Centre rally in Norwich
THE government’s claims about numbers of civil servants on strike over pensions are wildly inaccurate, the Public and Commercial Services union has insisted.

Nearly 200,000 PCS members walked out in Thursday’s strike – according to figures communicated to the union’s head office from picket lines across the UK.

There were also thousands of civil servants on strike from Unite, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) and the Immigration Service Union (ISU).

Cabinet office minister Francis Maude has claimed only 100,000 civil servants were on strike. In fact the number is well over 200,000.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘The government refuses to accept that their pension robbery is deeply unpopular.

‘Instead of announcing made-up figures to undermine the strike, Francis Maude should be acknowledging that there is huge opposition, and start meaningful negotiations about public service pensions.

‘Civil servants along with health, education and local government workers are being forced to work longer, and pay more, for smaller pensions – all to pay for the bail out of greedy, irresponsible bankers.’

A mass rally was held at the end of the march from St Thomas’ Hospital to Central Halls, Westminster.

First speaker was Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, who said: ‘Today’s action is part of a coordinated campaign.

‘Paying 50% more if you’re a teacher for a much worse pension is completely unacceptable.

‘Any talk of all being in this together is completely hollow. Public sector workers on a pay freeze, on top of huge pension increases, are taking a massive, massive pay cut.

‘But it’s not just that, not just paying more for less. Being made to work to 68 – it’s just not possible. 68 is much too late.’

Blower was heckled at the end of her speech, with sections of the audience shouting: ‘Where’s the NUT today? Why aren’t you on strike today? Strike! Strike!’

Next speaker was Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, whose members in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary were on strike.

He said: ‘We should be taking action across Britain today, not just PCS, UCU and the other unions, but everyone taking action. We should be turning back the tide.

‘The rest of the trade union movement has got to start waking up. The next trade union day of action, which I understand is going to be called in October, needs to be a 24-hour strike against the effects of austerity.

‘We need the entire trade union movement to link up. Why is it they can take general strike action in Greece, Spain and France and we can’t? We have to take it in Britain.’

Terry Hoad, UCU President, said: ‘Through the change from RPI to CPI, UCU members are set to lose between £35,000 and £65,000 over the course of their retirement.

‘The next strike has to be even bigger with more unions involved. With the prospect of the detrimental effect of regional pay lurking round the corner, we still have a hard struggle ahead, but we can win and we must.’

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: ‘Francis Maude has told the media today that our strike is futile. But 400,000 public sector workers are taking action today and our strategy is to unite as many different groups as possible.

‘We’ve heard reports that in one of the London courts today, jurors refused to cross our picket lines. Also, let’s salute those brave men and women in the POA who have illegally taken strike action today.

‘In France they’ve just elected a president who wants to drop the retirement age from 62 to 60. Vive la France. All across Europe the people are saying we don’t want austerity.

‘We need to do more, with more unions, if the government doesn’t get around the negotiating table.

‘We must move our struggle forward. The time has come for the TUC to demand the government reopens talks on public sector pensions.

‘We are planning a further national strike in June. Let’s make sure there are more unions out than today, more workers on strike. If they won’t make concessions then we will do it again and again, because losing is something we’d regret for generations.’

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said: ‘You speak on behalf of millions of ordinary men and women who reject the government’s austerity programme.

‘After November 30th, that incredible day, momentum was lost.

‘But today has been a fantastic success and there will be more strike action in June and later in the year and into next year.

‘It’s right that the trade union leaders have to step up and give the leadership needed.
‘Defending public services is something we have to be proud about.

‘We have to defend the Welfare State. We’re not going to allow any posh boys from Eton to take it away from us.’

Workers were out on picket lines in Norwich, and there was a lunchtime rally.

Dave Seagrave, PCS branch secretary picketing outside the Department of Work and Pensions at Baltic House, said: ‘Nothing’s changed for the last year. We’re still in the same situation with regards to pensions. They want us to pay more, work longer and get less.

‘Also, they are talking about regional pay. In an area like this, this could mean a cut of 15% of your wages. The Tories want to bring it in this year, although Robert Devereux, parliamentary secretary of the civil services, says there’s too much going on this year and it will be next year.

‘People’s living standards are squeezed. There’s 100,000 job cuts. People are phoning us at the enquiry centre for JSA and ESA limited to one year. People are crying and threatening suicide.

‘We’re not trained for this. Yesterday, someone did kill themselves. We’re getting the brunt of it on the phones.

‘The TUC should be organising all the unions. On November 30th there were two million people out. The government came in with the “Heads of Agreement” and the union leaders bottled it and caved in.

‘Look at the local elections. The Tories got wiped out. The anger is out there.This Tory government has to go.’

Jacky, the PCS rep, and fellow picket David Baker at the Jobcentre picket line, said: ‘They’re applying this pay cut for four years; two years freeze and then a 1.5% cap while the cost of living is going up.

‘Who knows what happens after that. They’re taking more out of our pay packets this month for pensions.

‘The unions have got to fight whichever government gets in – the civil service is an easy target. We need all the unions to come out together.

‘Why should we pay for this crisis? Its caused by the banks. They’re making us work until we’re sixty seven. What’s going to happen to the young ones? So many can’t get a job.’

The rally at the King’s Centre was addressed by union speakers from PCS, Unite and UCU, with other contributions from Keep our NHS public, Coalition against the Cuts, Stop the War, NUT, ASLEF, BMA, and students from the UEA.

There was a speaker from the prison, who reported an unofficial illegal walk-out.

Ian Albert (PCS National Exec) said: ‘Francis Maude won’t come to the negotiating table. This is not acceptable. If they don’t come back, we will protest and protest throughout the summer and disrupt this country if necessary. Our pensions are sustainable and affordable.

‘Many thousands gave their verdict on the coalition. Enough is enough. Just go now!’

Barrie Brown, the Unite national officer, said it was unfortunate that Unison was not out with them but brought a message of solidarity from Unison national secretary Dave Prentis.
He said most NHS staff pensions averaged £6,000 per annum and for many women it was £4,000pa. He said: ‘We have to look at the bigger picture. Look at Spain and Portugal.’ He said there was one attack after another, with four-hour queues at Heathrow due to the cuts.
Mark Taylor from the UCU said: ‘While we are struggling to maintain our standards of living, another section is doing very well. We are struggling to find a party to represent us.’

Mark, from Unite, representing workers at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and other parts of the NHS and the prison, said: ‘In Suffolk, Serco has been given the contract for community care and are cutting the terms and conditions of frontline nurses and therapists.

‘The 37.5 hour week has been increased to 40 hours, the 27 minimum day holidays has been reduced to 25 and the sickness provision is under attack. The Queen’s speech spells cutting redundancy consultation notice from 90 to 30 days and dismissal will be easier and you will have to pay to get to a tribunal.’

PCS regional organiser Richard Edwards said there were more people out on 30th November when the NUT came out and kids did not have to go to school. ‘There’s no easy route with this government,’ he said.

Anna Athow, BMA Council in a personal capacity, referred to the elections in France and Greece and said that the working class are showing that they are fed up with austerity cuts and are not prepared to starve to bail out the banks to prop up capitalism in its biggest ever crisis.

She said Thursday’s action was good but it is going to take more than a one-day strike. ‘This is a completely ruthless class war government, as we saw with the Health and Social Care Bill,’ said Athow.

‘Unfortunately the big health unions and the TUC mobilised not a single action to stop it. What we need is a general strike to bring down this government. Nothing less will defend our NHS, our state education, and stop tuition fees and give our youth a future.

‘And we don’t want another Blair/Brown-type blue Labour government. We want a workers’ government and socialism and get rid of capitalism once and for all.’

A worker from the prison service said that if we all came out together we could bring this government down.



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