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 3113.

    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. If city collapse we can survive, but if our public sector collapse it will be catastrophe.
    And Strike, you mark my words, will not only save Public Sector, but that other malfunctioning private sector called the City. Thank you very much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3112.

    I was one of those on strike who had never dreamt that I would take such action. Really surprised at how many ordinary decent, professional people were in the march. Most of us were not there to make a political statement, just to protest at losing the pensions we were promised. Hugely uplifted by the support of onlookers who were applauding and the number of cars honking horns in support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3111.

    Put £100 a month in your savings.After 20 years that's £20,000.You tell the bank you want your money now,and they say only if you give us an extra £2000,then we'll let you collect £15,000.Thats what's just happened to us.
    Oh yes I'm part of that 'bloated' civil service only I was employed by Thatcher's gov't in 1986 and I waste my time finding drugs,guns,paedophile porn and illegal immigrants

  • rate this

    Comment number 3110.

    Sorry for 1 days 'inconvenience' (as it was for me) - for me, this is the rest of my life! .A broken contract after 35+ years of keeping my end of the bargain. To say that the new deal of a 'crust' is better than the private sector is like saying that my crust is better than the starving get - a ridiculous comparison. Fair pensions for ALL (public or private) - and deals should NOT be broken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3109.

    This is all about "have" and "have not". Anyone remember the miners strike & what that was about? Tube drivers striking? Postal workers striking? Anyone striking? "I pay your wages" HA. I empty your bins. I teach your kids. I am an employee paying taxes & NI. I work, I get paid. If your job doesn't give you the pay & conditions you want then shut up & do something about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3108.

    It's exhausting... Osborne : "We have to make difficult decisions". Balls : "Coalition are bad. We're the best". 2 years time. Balls : "Oh, turns out we do need to cut back.". Osborne : "Told you". Union Chief : "Don't even think about it Balls. We pay your salary". United Kingdom : Meltdown. Pension = irrelevant. Go on, hit that "Negatively Rate" button and wave your banners. I'm over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3107.

    Your hatred and protest against a very small minority - bankers and politicians means that you punish the large majority - the average UK person. There is no money in the economy to pay these pensions or do you believe we should spend beyond our means as Gordon Brown and his Labour cronies did while in power? Not sure how Torys/Libs can be blamed when they have had power for 1 year and a half.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3106.

    Dear Mr Gove
    As you and your colleagues believe the pension you are offering us is really good, can I now assume that your and your colleagues will be abandoning the MPs pension scheme and accepting the scheme you are offering us instead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3105.

    Currently - it's just not worth doing most jobs for the pay offered. Time for a revolution, near as I can see - worldwide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3104.

    Re 2821.toadhall I am on 20k. I have no pension or hope of one.Can anyone give me one good reason why it is fair that I should contribute to the pension of a public sector worker?
    ****Do you shop at Waitrose, Tesco, Asda etc. or or bank at any bank? Yes, so I presume you also object to all or any of their staff pension schemes. Or do you just object to whoever empties your refuse?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3103.

    i was working out my pension while watching the leveson inquiry, and it appears one witness after another are taking the ground from under andy coulson and rebkah brooks feet, it must all lead to number ten, isnt that right nieuw divil. the prospect of a scottish breakfast might bring encourage them to speak up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3102.

    Don't worry! Soon the NHS will be successfully sold off and all you Tories can stop worrying about how the other half lives. Those billions spent on health can go towards tax cuts you all so desperately deserve. And Nurses such as myself can rest easy knowing I'll be paid more and treated better under the private system. The patient? Well only if they can pay. Mission accomplished?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3101.

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3100.

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3099.

    In regards to the effect this is having on the economy: I was out and about this afternoon and noticed that most of the kids who were off school seemed to be going to the cinema. With the cost of tickets comfort food etc they must have received a significant boost today in profits.So much for damaging it

  • rate this

    Comment number 3098.

    Every employee has a legal contract of employment which states their duties and the terms of their remuneration for doing that job including pension entitlements. The government is trying to force though changes to public sector contracts without any compensation. It seems employment contracts can be breached without any legal sanction if you are an employer but not as an employee. So unfair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3097.

    all the people who condemn strikes: give an alternative for workers to gain leverage over bosses? Suggest something workable instead of bashing strikers. Or do you think bosses are so altruistic that they will just give workers good terms and a means to a decent life out of the goodness of their own hearts? Or do you think that people can 'just leave and get another job' (with 2.5m unemployed)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3096.

    Shame on the public sector. The private sector lost these benefits years ago and the gov even taxes their pensions YET nobody in the public sector objected then.

    The public sector gets the most holidays, decent work hours AND they still have pensions. Striking will not solve the inequalities that exist today it only serves to inconvenience and put those at risk that need the services the most

  • rate this

    Comment number 3095.

    3078 Duke - Summed up perfectly. I'd like to rate you comment a million times. The old divide and rule trick is surprisingly still so effective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3094.

    3050. Mainconcern - Circumstance, choice and opportunity come to mind! Not noticed! many people on here complaining are or were in the Public Service. I was Civil Service, did not do a stroke of work for 18 years an absolute doddle after 24 years military service. I now have a pension (one of them) of £500 a month after tax, thank you very much.


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