Leeds council leader backs people at pension strike rally

Pam Sian, from Unison's Yorkshire and Humber branch, said people felt they had no choice but to strike

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A council leader has backed striking staff as an estimated 7,000 people attended a rally in the centre of Leeds over public pension reforms.

Marchers walked from Woodhouse Moor to the city centre to hear union leaders denounce government plans.

The Labour leader of Leeds City Council Keith Wakefield said workers had "every right to show their grievance".

The government said the cost of public service pensions had risen by a third in a decade, so changes were needed.

It wants public sector workers to pay more in pension contributions and work longer before they can retire.

West Yorkshire Police said they did not have "any information to contradict" the estimation of the size of the rally from BBC staff on the ground.

Councillor Keith Wakefield publicly backed workers who joined the national strike over proposed changes to their pensions.

Speaking on the picket line at the city's Civic Hall, Mr Wakefield said: "I think they have got every right to show their grievance."

He described the pensions deal as "one of the worst I have ever seen".

AT THE SCENE

Marchers in the centre of Leeds

Trevor Gibbons, BBC News

A strong wind whipped across Victoria Gardens in Leeds as an estimated 7,000 strikers gathered.

The crowd, overlooked by Leeds Town Hall and a reclining figure sculpted by Henry Moore, cheered as speaker after speaker took to the microphone.

Celia Foot, of the NASUWT, got the biggest reaction from the crowd as she said: "We are only beginning."

A teacher from Swillington Primary School in Leeds told the crowd "everyone has a right to a decent pension".

Some speakers said they had not been on strike before, but many guessed this would not be the only strike over the pension issue.

At the edges of the rally the wind caused swirls full of discarded leaflets and placards, and made hearing the speeches difficult.

Meanwhile, a short distance away on the Headrow, Leeds' lunchtime shoppers went about their routine.

"When you think they are going to have to pay more, take a 3% pay cut, work longer and get less I don't think there is anybody in this city that wouldn't sympathise."

Hugh Lanning, the deputy general secretary of the PCS union told the crowd: "This is a fight we are going to win this is just the beginning it's about the next generation.

"Leeds you have been brilliant."

Kate Mayer, of the GMB union who is a learning mentor at Swillington Primary school in Leeds, said: "Everyone has a right to a decent pension and the strike is about valuing our public services.

However, Andy Glide, a parent in West Yorkshire who had to find alternative childcare for his son because his school was closed, had little sympathy for the strikers.

"I think they need to realise that everybody else who's not public sector has gone through a similar sort of thing over the last few years and what they're actually still getting is quite a good deal," he said.

In Leeds, the city council said of the 266 schools across the city, 202 were closed, with 40 partially closed.

Of the 190 schools in Bradford, 156 were completely closed and 21 were partially closed.

Kirklees said 142 schools of its 196 schools were closed and a further 12 partially closed.

In Wakefield, 119 of the city's 131 schools were closed and eight partially closed.

In Calderdale, 87 of the district's 104 schools were closed and seven partially closed.

As well as schools, many council offices, hospitals and day care centres across West Yorkshire were disrupted by Wednesday's industrial action.

Mid-Yorkshire NHS Trust cancelled non-urgent surgery. Only emergency cases, along with cancer, kidney and pregnancy care, were dealt with.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust followed a similar policy to the Mid-Yorkshire Trust, with emergency care only, along with cancer and kidney treatments.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service urged people to use the service wisely for patients with serious and life-threatening conditions only.

A spokesman said ambulances would be operating at a reduced level during the strike action and there was likely to be disruption to normal services for the remainder of the day.

'Extra charges'

Leeds City Council said cremations across the city were suspended, but staff were hand to deal with the needs of particular faith-related cremations.

Part of crowd in Leeds Thousands of people joined the rally in the centre of Leeds

Passengers arriving at Leeds Bradford International airport were warned by the UK Border Agency to expect delays.

Police support workers were also taking part, but West Yorkshire Police said front-desk services at its police stations were still operating.

Bill Adams, the regional secretary of the TUC, said the action against changes to pensions had been well-supported.

He said: "This is an unfair stealth tax and the government are dressing it up as pension reform.

"All money they've asked for is going straight back to the Treasury, going to pay off the debt.

"These are extra charges on nurses, teachers and lollipop ladies.

"Some of these people have never been on strike before."

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