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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 3133.

    Will Dave, Gideon and Nicky also be freezing their salaries and capping their pay rise at 1% after?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3132.

    Re Russ Wild.

    Yep lest get rid of all public sector workers.
    Perhaps you will be the first to apply to take a low paid job dealing with your own sewerage ,looking after the long term sick,perhaps even trying to educate the young. Please engage your brain before you hit the keyboard.Stop opening your mouth and letting your belly rumble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3131.

    I have no sympathy for these people. They work in an environment that is not target driven or ambitious. They have a better deal than many people in the private sector and especially people who work for themselves. Shame on them for closing schools and preventing operations because they have to retire a year later like the majority of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3130.

    Forget attacking those on the frontlines. Does nobody see that the Gov'ment need to cut from the TOP? MP salaries, perks, travel, expenses. Cut that to Nat min wage, no perks, non-first class travel, and no expenses, and we can leave the bottom of the heap workers, who had to strike to keep fair working conditions, and fair pensions, as they are. Stop giving money to Europe, stop paying the rich

  • rate this

    Comment number 3129.


    Fairness = alignment with others. If you were "private sector" you'd already be paying more for less... staff here have been on pay freeze since 2009, redundancy for 15%, workload up on remaining employees accordingly. So when you say "Fair. I think not" then I disagree. It is tough everywhere, everyone needs to pay their piece (bankers x5 obviously)

  • rate this

    Comment number 3128.

    Unions are not opposed to pension reform any more than the Labour party denies the need to cut the deficit. Coalition government rhetoric that persistently claims the opposite is discreditable and unconvincing. What are the main points of difference between the two sides? Can we be allowed to judge for ourselves? It seems we're back in the 1980s world of 'There is no alternative'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3127.

    The strike must go on till well deserved demands of Public sectors workers are met.
    They are the backbone of our economy. We should not let it collapse.
    Genuine jobs such as:
    'audience development officers', 'cheerleading development officers' and 'communications waste strategy officers'... and many other 'Facilitators', and 'Czars' post
    Hardly the backbone now is it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 3126.

    I agree with Mr. Brooke and do not understand why so many in the private sector are criticising the strikes because they can not strike? Why criticise us because we can? We can stand up against a govt that has severely mishandled this recession - protecting banks & their self interests over the majority of people. I love my job and will be in school from 7.30am-10pm tomorrow because I love my job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3125.

    It's a ONE DAY STRIKE not the end of civilisation as we know it. For pity's sake do try and keep things in proportion. This ridiculous knee jerk reaction from "Angry of UK" is precisely what the government wants and you easily manipulated, wind-up muppets have given them exactly what they want on a silver platter. Democratic rights are wasted on the average British resident!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3124.

    This is completly justified action by many people who would not normally even consider strike my partner a teacher and my daughter a nurse among them. We have to look beyond this private v public propaganda and realise that we the 90% are being shafted by the 10%. This millionaire cabinet with their own gold standard pensions really need reminding they are supposed to represent the 90% not the 10%

  • rate this

    Comment number 3123.

    I work in the private sector, earn £60k per annum. My employer and I pay 6% each of my salary into my pension. Only in 2008 I had no pay rise, and my pay rise was 3% this year - below inflation but better than any public sector worker. I fully support the strike and just wish that more had come out: this government is dishonest and immoral: tax cuts for their friends, tax hikes for the rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3122.

    3103.stan howard

    What the hell was that about!

    Incoherent doesn't do it justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3121.

    Public Sector workers are not the backbone of the economy. Without the private sector they would not exist.

    They have forgotton this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3120.


    The money is there. The Tories lack the moral fibre and backbone to go and get it from them.

    They talk about making 'tough' choices. The reality is they've avoided all the tough choices and taken the easy route of trying to clean out every spare penny of the average working person rather than take the genuinely tough decision of tackling the real disease that is eating away at economy

  • rate this

    Comment number 3119.

    3102. lyssen

    "Don't worry! Soon the NHS will be successfully sold off and all you Tories can stop worrying about how the other half lives."

    ... and the NHS pension will still need to pay out to retired members. Think the Pension is unaffordable now? You ain't seen nothing yet.

    Fragmentation (part-privatisation) of public services contributes to long term pension problems... Fewer contributors!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3118.

    I think you'll find the majority of 'strikers' were getting some Christmas shopping done. Brent Cross was heaving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3117.


    'Why do people think that public sector workers have "gold-plated" pensions? The average is £7k a year and that's not a lot to live on.'

    Classic! LOL Living in a fantasy world £7k is unimaginably huge for a pension.
    Pensions and pay are not there to fit what you want to spend! You have to live within the pay or pension, that is reality that way round!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3116.

    "The only public sector workers that I think deserve are support are NHS workers. The rest simply don't deserve any support. The ones that clean the streets and the ones in the unemployment offices are the worst."

    Most of the street cleaners have been privatised....err 30 love

  • rate this

    Comment number 3115.

    Is there anyone on strike that didn't find it "a difficult decision" I'm fed up hearing it. It is not a MASS strike of millions its a small self interest group.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3114.

    idle bar stewards get back to work!!!


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