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Socialist Worker

Public sector pension strikes: rolling coverage as it happened

News from Thursday's strike by members of the PCS, UCU, Unite, RMT and Nipsa unions


5.35pm: Today’s magnificent strike showed the level of anger against the Tories’ attacks in workplaces across Britain.

Hundreds of thousands struck. And many thousands more—those not on strike—offered solidarity to the strikers.

The government’s crisis was intensified as even the police marched in their tens of thousands against the Tories (see www.socialistworker.co.uk//art.php?id=28421) and prison officers unofficially walked out.

Today also showed what can be achieved.

Workers have the power to beat the Tories, and more strikes should now be called to finish them off.

Socialist Worker would like to thank everyone who sent in reports and photos today for our rolling coverage. It has allowed us to provide a detailed picture of the anger, militancy and determination of everyone who joined picket lines, marches and rallies today against the Tory government.


5.30pm: Hundreds of strikers and their supporters packed into Westminster Central Hall in London this afternoon as part of today’s public sector strike.

The rally heard from representatives of the PCS, UCU and Unite unions and their supporters.

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT union, whose members in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary also struck today, said, “Workers in Britain should take inspiration from their brothers and sisters in Greece and France. We should have a general strike in Britain to defend our livelihoods.”

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS civil service union, said, “The cabinet secretary Francis Maude told the media that today’s strike was futile and that the PCS are the only union that oppose the pensions deal. But the truth is that all major unions have rejected the deal.

“The next strike needs to be even bigger with more unions involved. Today has been brilliant and has put the campaign back on the road.

“We have to be committed to taking more action. There’ll be further national strikes in June and in the PCS there will be strikes across the country before then.”

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, which represents striking health workers, said, “After 30 November the momentum was slightly lost—we have to pick up the momentum once more.

“Today has been a fantastic day. There will be more strikes in June, at the end of the summer, the winter, next spring and on and on.”

There were many calls for more action from the audience. Christine Blower from the NUT teachers’ union was heckled by trade unionists saying “call a strike in June” and “why aren’t the NUT striking?”

She told the room, “We will keep up the campaign and my union’s NEC will meet today.”

Labour MP John McDonnell said it was “an honour” to speak at the rally and that the strikers have “given people hope. We’re not just going to win—we’ll get rid of this government and change the world.”

Gareth Page, Unite rep at Guys hospital and one of the organisers of the march from St Thomas’ told the rally, “I’d like to express my gratitude to the Unison and NUT members who came and joined our demonstration today. The solidarity from other unions is fantastic.

“The government is attacking the NHS. Our job is to defend it.”


3.05pm: A rally in Norwich saw 100 people from PCS, UCU and Unite Health. It also saw POA members take part. Norwich prison saw 100 percent of staff walk out today.

The main messages were that we need more unity and to escalate the action to beat the government.

Ed Bober from the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts said, “Enough is enough”.

Messages of support were given from NUT and Unison representatives, and from Keep our NHS Public.


2.53pm: In Brighton, strikers and non-strikers alike rallied in defence of pensions and for a bigger fightback against government attacks, reports Phil Mellows.

Among those who marched from UCU, PCS and Unite Health picket lines was a strong contingent from local Unison branches who echoed the calls for the action to spread.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also joined the rally and expressed her support for the strikes.

And up to 100 members of Unite, PCS and UCU rallied in Barnsley this morning.

They followed large pickets at the main Barnsley civil service workplaces and Barnsley College.

Rob Williams from the PCS national executive told the crowd, “The PCS strike today in Barnsley is the most solid we have had, stronger even than 30 November.”

Paul Bedford, the Unite chair of the Barnsley hospital joint union hospital committee, said, “The average public sector pension is only £4,000.

“What the Tories are doing is robbing our pensions to solve the bankers’ crisis.”

Lee Short, Barnsley College UCU branch secretary, said, “We all need to go away from here and demand our unions get together and draw up a plan of action of how to beat the government.”

There were also speakers from Barnsley TUC, and the local branches of GMB and Unison.

Dave Gibson of the UCU national executive, who chaired the rally, said, “We have had £430 donations from NUT branches twinning with us and collections from GMB and UCU at the University of Sheffield.

“That shows the solidarity today’s strike has produced. Our campaign of joint union action is back underway.”


2.45pm: If you haven't seen it yet, there's a report on today's unofficial walkout by prison officers in the POA union at www.socialistworker.co.uk//art.php?id=28448.


2.37pm: The MENA Solidarity Network website carries messages of support from the workers’ movement in Egypt:

Dr Mona Mina, member of the Egyptian Doctors’ Union National Executive Committee, sends the message: “Solidarity from Egypt. I support public service and health workers strike against government cuts in pensions. Also in Egypt we face privatisation plans for the health service which will decrease the rights of both doctors and patients.”

And here’s a statement from Manar Hussein, a doctor in Cairo; Ragy Bebers and Ahmed Attia, doctors in Port Sa’id, Mohammed Shafik, President of the Independent Hospital Workers’ Union at Manshiet al-Bakri Hospital Cairo: “Solidarity with the 10 May strike of British health and public service workers against cuts in pensions.

“In Egypt , we are in also in an ongoing struggle against the same neoliberal attacks on our health and public services, our wages and conditions and privatisation.

“We are fighting for social justice and ask for your solidarity against military repression here, where the army is using tear gas and other weapons, many of which are supplied through the UK government, to attack people protesting for our rights.”


2.10pm: Liz Jolly in Birmingham reports that there were pickets across the city this morning:

At Selly Oak jobcentre there were 15 pickets in a buoyant mood.

Viv, a PCS striker, said, “We feel very strongly about this, why should we have to work longer, pay more and get less?”

Another picket added, “We're here to defend unemployed people. They deserve a decent jobcentre service. We are making our contribution—what kind of contribution are the bankers prepared to make?”

There were also defiant picket lines at South Birmingham College, Handsworth DWP, Handsworth College, Kings Heath jobcentre, Ofwat, the courts, and elsewhere.

At the Crown Prosecution Service, the PCS rep said, “People in Unison come to complain to me that general secretary Dave Prentis is not calling strike action.” (The probation service workers are in Unison)

One non-striker refused to cross a picket line. She had really important meeting, but wouldn’t cross—“I've never crossed a picket line!”

And at the Children's Hospital, Unite electricians and building services workers were out. The rep said, 'This government is shite.

“We need Unison on the pickets too—they make a big difference. We want to strike together.”


1.37pm: Kate Douglas reports that the picket line at Witney jobcentre this morning was its first ever.

Oxford jobcentre also picketed, and was supported by 95 percent of members. Only 15 staff out of 120 went in and half of them were managers.

There were also 30 PCS and Unite pickets at the Ministry of Defence in Oxford.

And Dave Owens reports that the strike at Liverpool’s jobcentre plus call centre was “phenomenal”.

“Only seven of 151 staff were in work,” he says. “And at nearby CSA call centre only two out of 100.”

And Steven Shakespeare, the Liverpool Hope University UCU branch secretary (personal capacity), reports that Liverpool Hope UCU branch has strongly supported escalating action over pensions, despite a lukewarm campaign from the national union.

“We had pickets across the entrances of both of our campuses. And we were buoyed up by solidarity visits from Liverpool John Moores University and messages of support from the University of Liverpool UCU.

“The response from the public and students was very positive. And Unison members we spoke to were angry that they weren’t on strike alongside us.

“This shows the need for continuing to put pressure on public sector union leaders for strong national backing for action, as well as building rank and file confidence.”


1.25pm: Pickets at the College of North East London (Conel) had a sound system outside the college this morning.

Jenny Sutton, the UCU rep, told Socialist Worker, “Building this strike has been made much harder by the lack of decisive leadership from the top of our union. We’re doing pretty well but we haven’t been able to overcome that.”

Clare Richardson, from the UCU committee at Conel, added, “Some people have gone in who were out before. But our spirits are high on the picket line.

“As it is we’re getting mixed messages from the top and our members are really confused—specially people who aren’t activists. It gives an excuse for those who want to drip in.

“After today the unions must stick together for coordinated action.”

And Tottenham police station also saw picket lines from support staff this morning.

Beverley Morris, a PCS learning rep, told Socialist Worker, “I want the bloody pension that I paid for.

“I don’t want to be told at 53 that I have to work till 68. We’ve already paid for our pension. If they didn’t want me to have a pension they should have told me when I was 20—not after I’ve been working for donkey’s years.

“I’m sick of government people on the TV saying our pensions aren’t fair on tax payers in the private sector. We’re tax payers too.”


1.15pm: Marches and rallies have been taking place across the country, with hundreds demonstrating in London and Leeds.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, told Socialist Worker, “The Tories hoped this dispute had gone away. But workers are on strike today because they refuse to accept attacks on their pensions.

“Austerity is being rejected across Europe. We are all part of the same struggle.”

Reports from this morning’s picket lines are still coming in to Socialist Worker.

James Eaden reports that pickets were out in force at Chesterfield College—“and that it didn’t rain!”

There was very solid support for the strike, with all student transport buses cancelled.

Delegations from Unison health visited the pickets and Unite members from CSC, where they are facing redundancy threats.

UCU members at Chestefield College are also in dispute over management attempts to take lecturers off nationally negotiated pay rates and to cut hourly paid lecturers’ pay by 20 percent.

Tony Harper reports that there was also a lively picket outside of Manchester’s main hospital complex on Oxford Road this morning.

Up to 100 pickets waved flags and got huge support from passers by and motorists, who honked their support.

Most are members of Unite’s health section. Support was offered from some Unison members, who are not striking today.

The mood was upbeat, although some strikers said they were disappointed at the lack of unity showed by some Union leaders.

One rep said that the momentum had been lost after the huge strikes of November last year.

“Downbanding”—that is, a cut in salary for the same job—is a very live issue and causing a lot of anger at the hospital.


12.50pm: PCS members struck solidly at Hackney benefit centre in east London this morning. Teachers from BSix sixth form college joined strikers to show solidarity.

Nigel Prendergast, a PCS rep, said, “We will need to keep up the campaigning to put the pressure on the government as one day of strikes, no matter how good, will not be enough.”

Dave Franklin reports that around 10 people joined the PCS picket at Land Registry in Plymouth.

“Most members aren’t at work and CWU members refused to cross the picket line to deliver the post, so there won't be much work done today,” he says.

In Norwich, Revenue and Customs offices closed down as 80 percent members took action. Picket lines sprung up at the hospital, DWP and Cabinet Office.

Julie Bremner, spokesperson for PCS in the region, said, “Austerity is not working. They want to make us pay for the crisis and now we are back in recession.

“Youth unemployment is spiralling while older people are being forced to work to 68 and beyond. We are a wealthy country—the rich are making money and executive pay is soaring.

“We are right to take action for fair pensions for all, against job cuts and the pay freeze.”

And Sam Turner reports from Hastings that picket lines at the Child Support Agency, the jobcentre, Revenue and Customs and the law courts were lively and determined.

“The jobcentre had its best ever picket with 12 strikers, all of whom said they were coming on the demo and rally,” reports Sam. “Fraternal greetings and solidarity were exchanged across all the picket lines.


12.35pm: At University College Hospital in London Unite pickets were out early on the main steps.

One told Socialist Worker, “The Tories are tearing the NHS apart. If they carry on the way they’re going there’ll be nothing left. People in the health service work long hours for low pay.

“There is mass unemployment but the wards are under staffed. We need to change all that.”

In Trafalgar Square PCS union pickets were out in force. At the National Portrait Gallery around ten workers picketed the staff entrance, before moving round to the front entrance when the gallery opened to the public.

Liz, a PCS member at the gallery, told Socialist Worker, “It’s encouraging to have so many people on the picket line. I hope that the strike will keep the pressure on the government.”

Around the corner PCS strikers at the National Gallery held a lively picket line. Darren told Socialist Worker, “The pension changes have already started to hit our pay packets. But we have to keep on saying they this is not what we voted for.

“The government has no mandate to attack us, and we want people to know that we’re fighting to protect public sector services workers today, and for generations to come.”


12.25pm: UCU pickets battled a fierce wind outside London Met University in North London this morning.

Mark Campbell told Socialist Worker, “For UCU in London this is our fifth day of strikes in this dispute. I’m proud that our union is still fighting. But we can’t just keep having set piece one day strikes, good as they are.

“We need a proper strategy to win and that means serious escalation. We are in an even better position to win than we were when this started a year ago. The tide has turned against austerity right across Europe.”

Unison reps Eddie Rowley and Alex Tarry, were on the picket line with their banner in solidarity. Eddie said, “We have taken the day off to show support for the UCU strike and we will take our banner to the rally in central London. We all need to fight to protect our pensions.”

Alex added, “We didn’t get balloted to strike today so Unison members are worried about being disciplined if they stay away from work. But everyone supports the fight.”

And 15 UCU pickets outside City and Islington College were joined by local NUT assistant secretary Ken Muller. “The NUT has been on strike three times with you in the UCU,” said Ken. “Islington teachers are angry they are not on strike with you today. We need to see more unions involved and you are keeping the fight going.”

UCU member Veronica Johnston said, “We have to keep fighting. The retirement is a massive issue. I am an older member and this is really a fight for the younger members.

“I am angry today and we have to keep fighting to make them listen to us.”

One picket admitted she considered going into work today. Pat O’Mahony told Socialist Worker, “I had a crisis of conscience. I have worked here for 12 years and I am a union person.

“My dad would have turned in his grave if he knew I was thinking of breaking a strike. But I couldn’t do it. That’s why I am here on the picket supporting the strike. But it’s easy to feel isolated. We need more people joining to together.”

And Josh Hollands reports a good turnout from all unions involved in the strikes today in Hull. There are around 25 UCU union members at Hull College and around 30 Unite union members at the Hull Royal Infirmary.

“We’ve had a great response, with even some outpatients refusing to cross picket lines,” said one striker. “This isn’t just a fight for pensions, but for the whole NHS—we’ll need more coordinated action soon.”

Meanwhile pickets in the PCS union told Socialist Worker that more of their colleagues had joined the strike today than on 30 November—probably because the money for increased pension contributions has already started to come out of their wages.

PCS members were out at workplaces including the Land Registry, the jobcentre and the tax office.


12.05pm: In Glasgow city centre, PCS pickets could be seen on practically every block this morning, reports Drew.

Workers braved the wind and the rain to picket the Student Loans Company, Portcullis House tax office, the Criminal Justice and Industrial Tribunals departments and Northgate Passport Office.

Helma Moghul, on the solid picket line at Portcullis House, said that “there is a need for prolonged national action against pensions—one day is not enough. We need to carry on the campaign on the shop floor, involving members through leafleting and meetings whenever the bosses try to impose policies such as privatisation.

“We have already had two one-day strikes against the encroaching privatisation of essential work in the department and we are ready to continue that fight.”

Ronnie Grosvenor, who was on the picket line at the Industrial Tribunal department’s picket, said, “This is not just a fight for pensions but a battle to keep public services safe for the coming generations.

“We are witnessing the potential loss of 700,000 public sector jobs and an end to the civil service as we know it.”

At the Student Loans Company the workers are not directly affected by the pension cuts. But union reps Alice Sinclair and Roddy Bonaccorsi said, “We have no option but to confront this government as we see encroaching privatisation and the spectre of regional pay attacking our members’ jobs.

“We need to unite the fight and against the attacks on pensions, pay and conditions.”


11.49am: Health workers from other workplaces joined pickets at Whipps Cross Hospital in Waltham Forest, east London, to show their support for the action.

Ruth Robinson, branch secretary East London Health, told Socialist Worker, “This is an ongoing battle – the government hasn’t given us anything.

“I don’t think people really want health workers who are 70. In Unite we’ll keep going after today and hope we can persuade our sister unions to join us.”

Norma Dudley, a Unite rep, added, “It doesn’t make any sense to force old people to work while young people can't get jobs,” she said.

“We need a sustained and determined campaign. Other people support us and as I go round I am recruiting people to the union.”

Labour councillor Gerry Lyons also joined the pickets. He said, “I support this action because pensions are deferred wages so a cut in pensions is a cut in pay.

“I’m also a retired member of the PCS which is striking today.”

An ambulance worker brought a solidarity card and collection from local ambulance workers.


11.25am: Socialist councillor Michael Lavalette reports from Preston:

“Despite the most awful weather there were groups of five to eight pickets at the many civil service buildings across the town.

“Almost no-one had gone into the Carers’ Allowance office, which handles benefit claims for the whole country.

“There were also pickets at the Revenue and Customs tax collectors’ office, which employs around 600 people, and the courts.

“Workers are now preparing to attend a lunchtime rally at the Preston Flag Market.”


11.10am: There was a strong turnout at the lecturers’ picket lines at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“Every single Unison member I’ve seen has said they should be out with us,” said UCU union branch secretary Pura Ariza.

“And we’ve had great support from students. Many of them are turning away from picket lines, saying they understand the issue and they support us.”

She added “It’s not the same as 30 November, but it clearly shows the potential for further action down the line. The numbers on the picket line and the support we’ve received has made me feel very confident about taking the next step.”

Unite strikers picketed at Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield. And pickets were in a determined mood at job centres and DWP offices in the Rotherham area from 7am.

Six strikers were outside Rotherham Jobcentre Plus where only four out of 140 staff had gone in. It was a similar picture at the DWP offices in Wath-upon-Dearne, also in Rotherham, where eight pickets gathered

Talk was of the huge votes against austerity in Greece and France and all were agreed that more strikes were needed in June to step up the fight and involve other public sector workers.

One picket said, “The pensions issue is back on track, now we need to get organised for more strikes.”

PCS pickets gathered at the DVLA in Glasgow. Union rep Willie said, “Today we’re out solid over pensions but it’s about more than that.

“There are 1,200 of us facing the chop as the government plans to close local offices and sack staff. We’ll be striking in June against the attacks on jobs.”

Ten strikers picketed at the Royal London Hospital while others gathered at University College Hospital and St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London.


10.50am: Around 20 pickets were waving Unite flags outside Ealing Hospital in West London.

Galwant Johal is a porter at the hospital. He told Socialist Worker, “We’re all here to fight for our rights.

“This is not just about our pension, it’s about your pension and everybody’s pension. This strike is for everybody across Europe.

“We haven’t got the result we want yet. But we’ll keep going until we do.”

Passing buses honked in support as they passed the picket.

Brenda Charles works in training. She said, “If all the 68 year olds are still working, what chances will people coming out of college have?

“I’ve got a 12 year old—what’s going to happen to her? That’s why I’m fighting.

“We’ve never had strikes like this. We’re sending a massive message. I would strike again, for as long as it takes. If all the unions stick together we’ll get there in the end.”


10.30am: Half a dozen pickets gathered at North Manchester General Hospital. Workers from the Fujitsu IT firm brought £60 they had collected for strikers.

Ten strikers picketed at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle despite rain.

Unite members also picketed at the Merlyn Vaz Health Centre in Leicester. One picket told Socialist Worker, “The job is already physically demanding and many workers develop problems with their backs. How much worse will it get if we have to work until we’re 68 or beyond?”

PCS members were out at HM Revenue and Customs in Cardiff. Strikers stopped the post.

PCS rep Oli Rahman reported a “quite solid” strike at the job centre in Stratford, east London. “They have even had to send the district manager in because they are so short-staffed,” he told Socialist Worker.

“It shows the anger of PCS members. And others too—we’ve had lots of support from the general public.”

Jobcentre worker and PCS London regional officer Marjorie Browne added “We need to do more, and quicker. People are losing money now.”

More PCS members were picketing the Inland Revenue office at Jubilee House.

Picket Paul said “We need to coordinate with the other unions. When we come out alongside larger groups of workers like the teachers we are much more powerful.”

There were five PCS pickets outside the family court in Liverpool. Workers held a pre-strike meeting outside on the pavement when management refused to let them use the building.

“These strikes are great, especially when they are coordinated,” union rep Jenny Kenny said. “But we need to step up our game, find tactics that put more pressure on the government.

“They don’t care about public services because working class people use them,” she added.

There were two pickets outside Liverpool Magistrates Court and ten at the passport office. More than 20 joined a picket line outside the UK Border Agency building.


10am: At St Thomas’ Hospital in central London teachers from the Lambeth NUT union brought pastries for strikers.

Sue was on strike there. She told Socialist Worker, “We shouldn’t put up with a race to the bottom over pensions. And nobody in the government or in the City is tightening their belts.

“There’s one law for the rich and another for everybody else. We need a mass co-ordinated day of action to stop the Tories.”

George works in the catering department at the hospital and was also picketing. “We need repeated action instead of strikes once every so often,” he said. “More strikes can make people more confident.

“The rich people in the government are parasites. They’re taking from us to make themselves richer.”

Health workers on strike today are in the Unite union. Those in the Unison union did vote against the government’s pension proposals – but their union leadership didn’t call them out.

Ray, an engineering worker at the hospital, said that Unison members in the hospital had said they wanted to strike in June.

Pickets reported solid strikes at Leeds Metropolitan University and Bradford College. But they said that bad weather and the fact that their UCU union’s leadership confirmed the strike at short notice had hit picket numbers.

In Bradford newly elected Respect MP George Galloway sent a message of support to strikers. He said he gave his “wholehearted support” to the action and denounced the Tories’ “savage attack on the living standards of public sector workers”.


9am: Good morning and solidarity greetings to all those taking part and supporting today's public sector strikes in Britain.

Around 400,000 public sector workers are striking today against Tory plans to slash their pensions.

The Tories want to force public sector workers to pay more for their pensions, work for longer and get less when they retire.

Today health workers in the Unite union, civil service workers in the PCS union and lecturers in the UCU union are striking against the attacks. RMT union members in the Royal Fleet Auxillary are also out as are Unite members in the Ministry of Defence.

There is a determined mood at the joint PCS and Unite picket line at the British Museum in London.

Mohammed, a PCS member at the museum, told Socialist Worker, “Today is all about protecting our pensions. If we don’t stand up today, tomorrow it will be too late.

“This is also about the pay freeze, privatisation and protecting our terms and conditions. The government is cutting services and people are struggling to cope.

“If they get their way, people will be dropping dead at work.

Pickets also report a buoyant mood at Barnsley College in south Yorkshire.

Lecturer Doug Pope was on the picket line from 7am. He told Socialist Worker, “This is my first ever strike as I became a lecturer in January.

“I think what we’re doing is important. You can’t just let people push you around. The government wants us to pay for their mistakes. Why should we?”

Steve Willmer has worked at the college for 12 years. “Sometimes you have to make a stand,” he said. “If the government’s changes go through I’ll lose £75 a month in higher contributions.

“But this is about the future generations too. How old will my daughter be before she can retire?”

Strikers are winning support from other workers. One teacher brought a £300 donation to pickets at Barnsley College from Rotherham the NUT teaching union. Barnsley NUT also donated £100.

President of Wandsworth NUT Andy Stone took a collection to lecturers picketing at Lambeth College in Clapham, south London. “The pickets were really welcoming,” he said.

“And it was useful doing the collection in my workplace. It’s obvious that there’s still a feeling among lots of teachers that we should all be out together.”

All photo captions and credits can be seen at www.flickr.com/photos/swp_britain/sets/72157629662535768


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News
Thu 10 May 2012, 09:02 BST
Issue No. 2302
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