Public sector strike rallies held across UK

Protesters in Manchester Unions accuse the government of failing to participate in proper negotiations in recent weeks, a claim rejected by ministers

Tens of thousands of people joined rallies around the UK as a public sector strike over pensions disrupted schools, hospitals and other services.

About two-thirds of state schools shut, and thousands of hospital operations were postponed, as unions estimated up to two million people went on strike.

The TUC called it "the biggest strike in a generation". The prime minister described it as "a damp squib".

Unions oppose plans to make members pay more and work longer to earn pensions.

The strike had the following effects:

Why have strikes been called?

The government wants most public sector workers to:

  • Pay more into their pensions
  • Work for longer
  • Accept a pension based on a "career average" salary, rather than the final salary arrangement which many are currently on
  • The government says the cost of funding public sector pensions is "unsustainable" as people are living longer
  • Unions say the proposals will leave members paying more and working longer for less
  • Department for Education figures suggest 62% of England's 21,476 state schools were closed, with another 14% partly shut
  • In Scotland just 33 of the 2,700 state schools were open, according to local authority body Cosla. In Wales, more than 1,500 out of 1,776 schools shut. In Northern Ireland, about two-thirds of the 1,200 schools closed
  • On Wednesday evening, London Ambulance Service formally requested help from police to answer 999 calls, and has urged people only to call if life is at risk; South East Coast Ambulance Service has said it is only responding to "life-threatening emergencies"
  • Discussions were held between the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission about the increased risk that someone could die while being transported in a police van or being treated by police - this would still be classified as a "death in custody" and the IPCC would still need to be notified
  • NHS managers said a little under 7,000 of approximately 30,000 routine operations were cancelled or postponed across the UK as well as tens of thousands of appointments
  • BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith tweeted: "(Health Secretary) Andrew Lansley says patients who have ops cancelled today will still be seen within 18-week limit."
  • In Northern Ireland, no bus or train services operated
  • Plane arrivals and take-offs at Britain's two biggest airports - Heathrow and Gatwick - were said to be largely unaffected with only a few cancellations of in-bound transatlantic flights to Heathrow
  • The Local Government Association said about a third of England and Wales council staff were not in work, equating to about 670,000 out of 2.1 million. About 250,000 public sector workers went on strike in Scotland while 170,000 workers in Wales took action
  • Just 14 job centres out of more than 900 across the UK closed, according to the Cabinet Office
  • Twenty-one people were arrested after an office in London's West End was targeted at about 15:50 GMT on Wednesday by a group of protesters believed to be from the Occupy London anti-capitalist campaign group
  • Scotland Yard said that, by early evening on the protest day, it had made 75 arrests across the capital for a variety of offences

Video from around the UK

As hundreds of rallies were held in cities and towns across the UK, the TUC estimated that 30,000 protesters had turned out in Birmingham and some 25,000 in London.

The government disputed that two million people had joined the action, with David Cameron saying "it looks like something of a damp squib" at Prime Minister's Questions.

"Our rigorous contingency planning has been working well," Cabinet Minister Francis Maude said later in the day.

At the scene

Standing out in their suits, ties and smart overcoats, the head teachers took their place at the front of the march. It's the first time their union, the NAHT, has been on strike for 114 years.

Chris Hill, head of Hounslow Town primary school, said all of the school's staff were striking for the first time.

"It's not a decision we take lightly but we have to take a stand," he said.

Also among the thousands gathering in central London are paramedic staff, out for the first time since the 1970s.

Among the placards and balloons is a common message to the government: "Don't work longer, and pay more to get less."

The number of protesters joining the march delayed its start for almost an hour, and progress was slow.

They were watched by a huge number of police - with roads to the City blocked by barricades and Trafalgar Square ringed with a wall of steel.

The protest ended with a rally at Victoria Embankment - perhaps the cheers were heard a few hundred metres away in Downing Street.

"Throughout the day it has limited the impact of the strikes significantly and as a result the majority of key public services have remained open."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber accused the government of "rhetoric today ... as predictable as it has been shallow".

"The biggest strike in a generation cannot be dismissed as a damp squib," he said.

"Uniting so many people in such strong opposition to their pension plans should give the government pause for thought.

"They now need to give the negotiations real content. Unions wants to achieve a fair settlement, but it takes two to reach a deal."

In the Commons, Mr Cameron said he thought the government had made a "very reasonable, very fair offer to public sector workers".

"I don't want to see any strikes, I don't want to see schools closed, I don't want to see problems at our borders, but this government has to make responsible decisions," he said.

But union leaders accused the government of failing to engage in proper negotiations in recent weeks.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said that the last time unions met Treasury ministers was 2 November, adding that "this idea that negotiations are continuing is just not true".

Mr Maude disputed that, saying formal discussions with the civil service unions took place on Tuesday and that talks would take place with teaching unions on Thursday and with health unions on Friday.

A TUC spokesperson responded: "There have been informal exchanges but nothing that could be described as negotiations at the national level."

Chris Keates, head of the teachers' union NASUWT, said: "We're in this position today simply because the government had not entered into genuine negotiations at an earlier stage."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said he had "huge sympathy" for people whose lives were disrupted by the strike.

But he said he was "not going to condemn the dinner ladies, nurses, teachers who have made the decision to go on strike because they feel they have been put in an impossible position by a government that has refused to negotiate properly".

'Huge damage'

Liberal Democrat Party president Tim Farron told the BBC News Channel the unions were wrong to strike because workers on low to middle incomes would get a "better, or certainly no worse" pension when they retire than is currently the case.

The prime minister's spokesman said a small number of Downing Street staff had gone on strike, while others had been affected by school closures and some staff from the Downing Street policy unit were helping out at the borders.

Mr Cameron's press secretary Gabby Bertin worked on passport control at Heathrow airport, along with a number of No 10 staff, Downing Street confirmed.

Marcher in Derby More than 1,000 demonstrations were expected across the UK

Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members who work for the UK Border Agency went on strike but airport sources suggested to the BBC that immigration controls were at two thirds of normal staffing levels - more than the 30-50% predicted previously.

The Immigration Services Union said 80% to 90% of staff went on strike, with 22 out of 23 workers at Calais port not showing up for work and, as far as they are aware, none of their members working at Heathrow.

Simon Walker, of the Institute of Directors, told the BBC News Channel the strike had done "significant damage" to the economy.

"If you're damaging the productive capacity of this country you're really doing huge damage to the fabric of the economy and that will last a long time and impact on all of us," he said.


More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 2973.

    I am a social worker helping older adults, I offer support to ALL of my clients whether they be previous public or private sector workers. The condems are doing a great job of dividing us all, god help those who back this condem rhetoric.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2972.

    It says all you need to know about some contributors here when a post like 1309 - every word of which is true - gets a rating of -32: the Daily Mail readers here have NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER IN THE TRUTH, because that would get in the way of their petty, right-wing, reactionary, anti public sector biases.

    Fact: the government is LYING TO YOU when it says public sector pensions are a problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2971.

    I'm not supporting the strikes. I work in the public sector and I went to work today as normal.

    I'm not a member of a union and I can't see why anyone except for a few trade union die-hards would want to support demands from the unions that are so unrealistic.

    We need to face up to the fact that the government have no money and we've all got to do our bit to help get the deficit down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2970.

    2864. rogerredhat

    " I am sick of the utter hypocrisy and arrogance of this government taking from everyone to shore up the flawed financial sector."

    Who wasted vast amounts of public money on Northern Rock (instead of just guaranteeing the deposits)?
    Who wasted billions to keep himself in power for a few months?
    We still 'own' £21 billion of toxic debt which Brown bought from speculators.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2969.


    In less than 100 years, we're projected in the UK to go from 12 workers for every retired person (1930s) to 1.6 workers for every retired person (2040). How on earth can the public sector expect pensions planned decades ago to still be viable?"

    How can we expect any economy to be viable in the future - that's the underlying issue, which needs addressing sooner rather than later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2968.

    digbic78 "KPMG are advising BBC staff at the mo about pension changes.Therecharge is £400an hour and they need at least two hours with each employee.14,000 employees at £400 and hour for two hours.£11.2 million quid."

    Really? I do hope it's the staff paying for it and not the BBC then, especially as they are supposed to be controlling costs.
    Or is the BBC wasting our money yet again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2967.

    Dear British people, You still haven't worked it out have you? You've been successfully conned for 30 years by a bunch of spivs and loan sharks. Promised the Earth, get nothing, and they run off with all your money leaving you in debt up to the eyeballs and fighting tooth and nail against those who are trying to represent you. Wake up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2966.

    PS sector keep striking keep demanding more that can not be afforded and quite simply you will become a luxury that can not be sustained and can wallow in your greatly successful decision to strike while you sign on!! and get a huge reality check as to what the real world of work lives with. If it is so bad quit! find something better (good luck) The job you have you are not entitled to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2965.

    I'm glad that we now have a government that stands up to these bully unions (go ask your union leader what his pension is like) Hope they stand firm, not like the Labour government, 'yes sir, no sir, thank you sir'
    My pension is not guaranteed, so what it says i might get when i am older might be different so at least public sector pensions are guaranteed..paid for people like me!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2964.

    I wonder what would happen if people opted out of the public sector / government pension schemes (if this is possible) and kept the, how ever much, money each month for themselves.
    What would the government do then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2963.

    And another point - if the Euro falls apart and the stock market plunges, private sector money purchase schemes will fall through the floor. As if they haven't fallen far enough already - remember G Brown and his raid on private pensions.

    So get real public sector workers - and we'll all have to deal with the bankers together - later

  • rate this

    Comment number 2962.

    I've been in central London all day. Saw 4 pickets (total 14 activists) and that's it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2961.

    It does not matter if you approve or disaprove of todays action. The government has seriously misjudged the mood of the country over what most people feel are unjust policies. Ring fencing the super rich while failing to stop massive 18% hikes in energy prices is morally unjustifiable. This government lack moral fibre and ethical direction and should pay accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2960.

    It means more people disagree with you -3+4 = +1

  • rate this

    Comment number 2959.

    Like George Orwell said "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".

  • rate this

    Comment number 2958.

    They have a much better deal that the rest of us. They have more holiday, better job security, better sickness benefits and a very generous pension scheme. People in the private sector are worried about their jobs and do not, believe that they will be able to afford to retire. Realistically, the private sector can not afford to subsidise your gravy train.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2957.

    As a neutral...

    I'm fed up of hearing griping remarks about "the rich" and "the greedy" in my opinion both sectors have examples of these,

    you can't hate a private sector worker for getting a bonus which is paid by their company!

    This is by no means a public sector .v. private sector, what a lot of you fail to realise is that a big amount of your pension funds come from the private sector!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2956.

    In less than 100 years, we're projected in the UK to go from 12 workers for every retired person (1930s) to 1.6 workers for every retired person (2040). How on earth can the public sector expect pensions planned decades ago to still be viable?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2955.

    If Cameron thinks that everyone works for the private or public sector by choice he is wrong. Most of us go where the jobs are and currently nowhere. His and the other coaltion MPs' attitude today is so schoolboy like, smurking, fighting with Milliband, as if there is nothing better to do. These guys annoys me so much. Only when we get proper statesmen at the helm will we survive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2954.

    If the strike is successful it will be all the children who were happy having a day off school who will pay. If they work in the private sector they would need to pay £600/month into a pension fund from the age of 20 just to keep pace with the public sector pensions. Unions are ensuring that Labour will never regain power...ever!


Page 19 of 167


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.