Striking public sector workers in Reading pension rally
Public sector workers across Berkshire are taking strike action
Hundreds of public sector workers have taken to the streets of Reading in a rally against pension reforms.
More than 200 schools across Berkshire closed or were partially shut as staff staged a 24-hour walkout.
Thames Valley Police said some civilian staff were striking but hospitals were not expected to be affected.
Workers have been told by the government they will "achieve nothing" but striking staff say planned pension reforms leave them with no choice.
Rallies were being held in Reading, Slough, Bracknell and Maidenhead.
The main march, organised by the Reading Trades Council, started outside the town's civic centre and ended in Forbury Gardens.
BBC Berkshire's Tiffany Foster estimated about 1,000 protesters were there but police on the scene declined to give a figure.
She said at the time: "It's very noisy and very good natured.
"There are plenty of banners, lots of whistles and vuvuzelas.
"We've got members from all sorts of unions here."'Lot of misinformation'
Two-thirds of schools across Berkshire, 214 out of 322, were shut or partially closed.
End Quote Mick Moriarty Unison
I have spoken with members who have never been on strike before and who have never participated in picket lines who are doing so”
Conservative MP for Reading East Rob Wilson said: "I think union leaders are misleading their members, they have been itching for a fight.
"I would say to workers, look at the offer on the table... it is a fantastic offer in the situation the country is in at the moment."
But a teacher from Redlands School in Reading disagreed. Sue Black, 49, said a proper review of the pension scheme needed to be done.
Speaking outside in Hexagon Civic Centre she added: "I will have to retire at 65. If I was 10 days older I would retire at 60.
"The pension situation is potentially unsustainable, but I think they are going about it the wrong way.
"Until the review happens how do we know what is possible?"
Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, Heatherwood Hospital in Ascot and Wexham Park Hospital in Slough were open with appointments and elective surgery carrying on as normal.
South Central Ambulance Service said its critical care was not affected.
Thames Valley Police said preparations had been made to deal with any problems.
A spokesman said: "In the event of a major incident, arrangements are in place, agreed by Unison, to recall staff to duty if required."
The civic offices in Reading were closed but other Berkshire council offices were open.'Do our bit'
Watching the demonstration in Reading was Richard, 45, who did not want to give his full name, with his 14-year-old son.
The former job centre employee is currently looking for a job in the private sector.
He said: "Everyone's got to pay their bit within the crisis.
"I just feel we've all got to do our bit."
But striker Fred Jones, area foreman for Bracknell Forest Council, said: "We're here today to defend our pensions.
"There seems to be a conspiracy by some of the media and central government to set the private and public sectors against each other.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there."
FROM THE SCENE
Hundreds of public sector workers gathered outside Reading's Hexagon Civic Centre at midday and marched through the centre of town, sounding vuvuzelas, beating drums and blowing whistles.
Some teaching assistants and teachers carried handmade signs, including one which said: "If you can read this, thank a teacher."
Among those striking were lock keepers, teachers, teaching assistants, physiotherapists and housing officers.
As the march progressed through the busy centre of town, some passers-by stood and applauded.
Others stood silently as the marchers passed by handing out leaflets.
The crowd then assembled in Reading's Forbury Gardens, where a rally was held from the bandstand in the winter sunshine.
Children's centres were open as usual and only Windsor and Maidenhead borough reported possible disruption in its day centre service.
Bin collections and street cleaning across the county were operating normally.
The Thames Valley branch of Unison said thousands of its Berkshire members were taking industrial action.
Picket lines went up in front of police stations, hospitals, council offices, colleges and schools across Berkshire.
Mick Moriarty, of Thames Valley Unison, said: "I have spoken with members who have never been on strike before and who have never participated in picket lines who are doing so.
"We ask the people of Reading and Berkshire to support what we are doing because our people support them in their daily lives and their community."
But Tom Jeffery, 32, said the public sector was "living in a bubble".
The director of an audio visual company in Woodley added: "We employ 30 people here and a lot of my employees don't have pensions because they can't afford them at this time of inflation.
"We've maxed out our credit cards as a country. The workers in the public sector do a fantastic job but without the private sector they would have nobody to pay for them."