OVER 20,000 striking teachers, college lecturers and civil servants from every London borough marched through the centre of the capital yesterday, with marches and rallies being staged in towns and cities all over Britain at the same time.
The members of the National Union of Teachers, University and College Union and the Public and Commercial Services Union all came off picket lines to join yesterday’s demonstration.
As they made their way past Downing Street there were loud boos for Prime Minister Brown and Chancellor Darling and their attempts to impose below-inflation pay rises on the public sector.
‘Stop lying to the nation! Tell the truth about inflation!’ and ‘Balls and Brown stop the rot! Give us what the bankers got!’ were among the popular slogans.
It was impossible for all the marchers to fit into a rally in Westminster Central Halls, where the PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘We went to see Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling and they told us we’re going to have to tighten our belts and make sacrifices to keep the economy going.’
But when the union leaders asked Brown to condemn the billions in City bonuses and multi-million pay awards to top directors, the prime minister’s reply was: ‘‘‘I’m not going to condemn them because they pay more tax”,’ Serwotka said.
‘It’s a lie,’ he responded. ‘It’s us that’s being asked to pay more tax.
‘The government has totally lost the plot when it says it is the poorest people in this country that can pay more tax.’
The PCS leader continued that scrapping the 10p tax rate left workers without children earning less than £18,000 a year £232 worse off.
‘A quarter of Britain’s civil servants earn less than £15,000 a year,’ said Serwotka, with coastguards on strike yesterday paid just £12,000.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘We’ve reached a critical juncture. Two or 2.5 per cent is a pay cut in anybody’s language.’
He said 26 TUC-affiliated unions were involved in the ‘Speak Up for Public Services’ alliance and would stage a ‘major rally and lobby of parliament’ on June 9.
Barber warned Brown that if the government ‘continues to use public sector pay as some kind of political football, I’m convinced it will pay a devastating price come the next general election.’
NUT Acting General Secretary Christine Blower said that the strike and mass rally had ‘captured the mood of our members and a lot of other teachers too.
‘The net membership of the NUT is up and three years of blow-inflation pay rises shows we’re right to take action today, because there are another three years proposed.’
She said messages of support had been received from all over Europe and Australia.
UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said she took pride in saying ‘we are standing together as trade unions’, adding that ‘every other union’ should be standing with them as well.
‘All it takes is a ballot and they’ll find that they’ll have their members out on strike in the same way too.’
Carry-Anne, a young teacher, told the rally: ‘I rent a small room from a generous colleague while my clothes are stored in bags on the floor.’
Hank Roberts, secretary of Brent Teachers Association, told News Line: ‘The fight over pay is actually all part of the fight to save state education.
‘The whole of the organised trade union movement needs to get out of its pram and start standing up for the working class, which means taking the government on.’
Hundreds of very angry public sector workers rallied at the Forum in Norwich yesterday morning.
Tony Mulgrew, Norfolk County NUT Secretary said: ‘Our slogan is “Fair Pay for teachers”.
‘Over the last three years we’ve had lower than inflation settlements imposed on us.
‘As the government isn’t talking we have no option but to ratchet up our action.’
Mark Sandell, Regional Secretary for Anglia UCU added: ‘I think this action will be a big success and highlight both the underbelly of education and the government’s attempt to cut public sector wages for years to come. This is just the first strike in an ongoing campaign.’
PCS member Dave Seagrove, interviewed on the picket line at Baltic House, said: ‘We are the low paid the government is talking about and they’re going to give us a pay cut!
‘Some people say we can’t afford to go on strike, but really we can’t afford not to. We are some of the lowest paid in the country.’
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