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 3173.

    The public sector is the backbone of this economy....?????

    This is exactly the problem. The public sector does not create wealth at best it should support the private sector to create wealth but unfortunately the majority of the sector is inefficient and creating nothing.nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3172.

    Public sector pensions are self funding. The governement is not saving money by reducing them, it is taking money from it to support the stupid decisions made by the greedy. The average public sector pension is £6350 for men and £4000 for women. That's a very very good pension is it? Stand together and fight this because we are all being crushed under foot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3171.

    Indeed, you clearly epitomise the "old" days of the public sector & the lazy mentality of those like you who were happy to draw pay for little effort. "Circumstance, choice and opportunity come to mind...." and boy did you take yours.
    3142.Ade...then join the Public Sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3170.

    For gods sake get a job where you have to do real work,teachers,9 till 3.30 plus a bit of paper work,=many thick kids.
    Eight men to pick litter in two trucks,6 to watch,two to pick up a bit of paper.My neighbour works for a council,she is at home more than work,watching tv or running her son about.WORK LIKE THE REST OF US,we have to contribute to you,but all you pay in,goes on yourselves.Greedy ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3169.


    Kerrymade if you love your job why did you and your fellow workers let down the children at your school today? Why can't people understand that it was the Labour government who has made the UK debt so colossal? You are only thinking of yourself and not those that you have a negative impact on by striking. The average person suffers. The government won't budge. Why should they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3168.

    3081 Richard
    Equivalent of 120 million hours of unpaid overtime a year?
    Absolute tosh!! What a stupid comment, the Government love people like you. If you choose to work for nothing, that is your choice. If you are forced into working for nothing then that is exploitation and illegal. No wonder there is no sympathy for a pointless strike when we read posts like yours. Well done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3167.

    Actually, if the public sector (in terms of teachers, doctors, nurses, etc) "collapses" what will happen is that they will become self employed private sector workers, and continue their services, probably charging fair rates. If the city collapses, we will lose billions in tax monies and hence make more public sector cuts...

  • rate this

    Comment number 3166.

    I was told not to rely on the State for a pension. I was told to join my employers scheme and start saving for security in my old age. In private and public sector jobs I did exactly this. I kept my side of the bargain. My current scheme is solvent and self-funded and paid for by ME, a taxpaying public servant - this government can keep its lousy, thieving hands off my retirement savings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3165.

    3113 What planet are you on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3164.

    If it were not for the private sector, public sector would not exist. Private Sector workers have not been able to stop halting of Final Salary Pension Schemes nor retaining years service PS workers retain when moving jobs Private Sector workers have been on their own & lost out now finding we are paying for pensions in the Private Sector & can do nothing about that either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3163.

    I fully agree with the strike, why should people pay more, for longer, for less.
    Aren't MPs public sector workers?
    Do you see them offering to join the same schemes as the strikers or giving up their gold plated pensions or leading by example!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3162.

    3142 Ade
    Your spouting rubbish, we all pay tax ,high earners pay higher tax....public or private sector alike. And dont get me started on self employed tax perks. This is about pensions.....if you dont fight for a decent pension dont attack those that do

  • rate this

    Comment number 3161.

    From the comments being posted now i see the for/against argument changing as the evening goes on or should that be i see the striking working are retuning home from a days xmas shopping. Oh you can deny it but fact is some shopping centres have been heaving today with many people walking round with union stickers on thier coats, can't mean that much to them then if they choose to shop not march.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3160.

    the govenment allowed the banking system to run wild until it bit itself in the ass and here we are fighting amoungst each other the mess thats left

    im not sure i want to pay any more of my money into a pension that the government has this kind of control over

  • rate this

    Comment number 3159.

    the facts....public sector final salary pension contribution from the government or taxpayer is 18% whilst the public sector worker contributes just a measly 6.5% out of their pay, compare this with the typical private sector stakeholder contribution from employer of 6% matched by 6% from employee,,having recently left a local authority on £20k pa i know what im talking about,.get real you people

  • rate this

    Comment number 3158.

    "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"

    What misguided twaddle. Have you any idea about economic theory? Obviously not....

  • rate this

    Comment number 3157.

    Yep damn those pesky Con/Dems its only since they came into power that the banks have gone loopy, and Europe has got in a state. Yep I remember...ohhh the good old days in 2009 when things were rosey and everyone had money and a job and spoke English......

  • rate this

    Comment number 3156.

    What planet is Norman Brooke on?

    No one is defending the super rich or energy price rises but these have nothing to do with pensions. The public sector is funded by the tax take from the private sector and public sector pensions need to be reformed as those in the private sector were a decade ago. Time for a reality check!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3155.


  • rate this

    Comment number 3154.

    Comment number 3113.
    Please do keep on Striking.. But be prepared for the backlash.
    You have feasted and glutted yourself for so long. on the public you cannot
    see that you are down to the bone now.
    Give in gracefully or you will reap the whirlwind


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