Hundreds of thousands of civil servants and teachers have gone on strike in England over proposed pension changes. Rallies took place across the country, including in Manchester where 200 firefighters who are not on strike, joined a march to show support. More than half of state schools were shut or partially closed over reforms that public sector workers say will make them work longer and pay more.
The government said the plans were “fair to taxpayers” and necessary. (BBC)
Up to 750,000 teachers, civil servants and other workers went on strike in England. Disruption hit airports, job centres, driving test centres and courts across the country. London’s Metropolitan Police said 90% of civilian staff who handled calls had not turned up for work, making response times slower. The force said 335 police officers had been taken from their borough duties to cover night and day shifts for 999 call operators. Met. Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson told a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting it meant “service to Londoners was necessarily degraded.” (BBC)
Almost all staff at the Passport Agency in Liverpool were striking, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said.
At the Criminal Records Bureau, 485 out of 500 were on strike; while at the Ministry of Defence 485 out of 500 staff took action, the union said. Meanwhile, up to 6,000 people joined a pension protest through Newcastle, a union leader said.
TUC regional secretary Kevin Rowan said: “It’s a real show of strength because we have a fairly weak private sector, so any action by this government is going to impact more on this region. It is unjustified and unacceptable.” (BBC)
About 30 people were arrested at a march in central London, the Met. Police said. The alleged offences including drug possession and criminal damage.
Unions said up to 20,000 people took part in the demonstration which passed Dowing Street and Parliament.
The Department for Education said more than 11,000 of its 21,500 state schools in England had been affected by the industrial action. Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary, said the “draconian changes” meant teachers paying more, working longer and getting less. (BBC) “Today’s action across the country demonstrates the anger and distress that this government is causing teachers,” Blower said in a statement. (New York Times) The NUT said the strike is because “the government is planning to cut your pension. They want you to pay more, work longer, and get less,” arguing that because pensions are “deferred pay… you are effectively being asked to take a pay cut.” (CNN)
Helen Andrews of the National Union of Teachers told a rally in the city of Manchester that teachers were being asked to “pay more, work longer, get less.” Prime Minister “David Cameron has accused teachers of a lack of morality,” she said. “Who really lacks morality? The thief or those who try to stop the thief?” (Washington Post)
Michael Gove, the education secretary, told reporters that he was disappointed by the strike. “I understand that there are really strong feelings about pensions, and we absolutely want to ensure that everyone in the public, especially teachers, have decent pensions,” he said, visiting an elementary school in south London. “But I just don’t think it’s a good idea to have gone out on strike today.” (New York Times)
However, David Cameron insisted the pension changes, being proposed for millions of public sector workers, would secure affordable pensions for decades to come. The government said reforms were necessary because as people live longer the cost of funding public sector pensions was “unsustainable.” (BBC) Cameron has said the reform is essential to stop the pension system from “going broke.” (CBC)
In Greater Manchester, more than 550 of the 1,050 schools were closed or partially closed.
Bev Dickson, a mother-of-two from Sale who runs a financial recruitment consultancy, was among thousands of parents who had to take time off work or make alternative childcare arrangements. She said: “While I sympathize with the teachers wholeheartedly, working in recruitment I’ve seen a lot of examples of people in the private sector having their pay and benefits hit – and unfortunately it’s a sign of the time.” (BBC)
One of the London boroughs most affected by the strikes was Camden, where only four of its 58 schools were fully open.
“We’ve paid into our pensions, we’ve paid our taxes,” striking adult education tutor Annie Holder said, adding that she was “really angry about the government’s politically motivated attempt to steal our pensions.” She blamed “the banking sector” for the country’s budget woes. And she rejected rhetoric from opponents of the strike about the public sector’s “gold-plated pensions… Our pensions will be about 60 pounds ($96) a week. It’s hardly gold-plated. We’ll have to work much harder and pay more,” Holder said. (CNN)
Elsewhere, Luton teacher Steve Coghian said: “I work in the public sector and I think we teachers, nurse, dinner ladies, lollipop ladies and people like that were not to the cause of the crisis but the government want to push us and rip us off.” (BBC)
And Rob Davison, a teacher at Dorchester’s Thomas Hardye School, said: “We’ve had a wage freeze already, we’re being asked to work longer and contribute more. Where’s the tax on the bankers, where’s the Robin Hood tax everyone’s been talking about?” (BBC)
In Lincolnshire, the county council said the majority of its schools remained open.
Jenny Adams, a teacher from Croydon, said, “We’ve got a situation where young people are not going to want to stay in this profession. It’s about who’s being asked to foot the bill for a mess that was made by others. We’re in a profession that is not kind when it comes to age. It’s inconceivable to be in a classroom in (one’s) late 60s.” (CNN)
Pupils in Norfolk were not affected because they had already been given the day off to attend the Royal Norfolk Show with their families. Blackpool Pleasure Beach laid on extra staff, hoping some families would take advantage of the extra time to head to the attraction.
The PCS union said early indications from pickets suggested about 210,000 of its members, who include air traffic controllers and coastguards, went on strike. However, the government said figures “from every government department” indicated just under 100,000 civil servants went on strike, meaning 75% went to work. (BBC)
There was a picket line outside the MoD supply organization in Arncott, near Bicester, which distributes supplies to front-line troops in Afghanistan. However, Richard Kelsell, Oxfordshire branch secretary of the PCS union, said many members went to work because they had a “crisis of conscience.” (BBC)
Meanwhile, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said some coastguards were on strike but all coastguard stations were “operational and appropriately manned.” (BBC)
Danny Alexander, the No. 2 official in the British Treasury, argued earlier this month that “it is unjustifiable that other taxpayers should work longer and pay more tax so public service workers can retire earlier and get more than them… It is the employees who are benefiting from longer life and generous pensions, but it is the taxpayer who is picking up the tab,” he said. (CNN)