Socialist Worker

The strike around the country: our action rocked Labour

Britain’s biggest strike since the 1926 General Strike shocked New Labour and the bosses this Tuesday. Strikers and activists sent in their reports of the pensions strike from around the country

Issue No. 1994

On the picket line in Sheffield (Pic: Alan Kenny)

On the picket line in Sheffield (Pic: Alan Kenny)

Cardiff: Pickets were out in force. Jane Moore, a Unison member at Cardiff Town Hall, said, “I and both of my daughters work for local government. If we didn’t do our jobs the public would be screaming.

“I am a member of the Labour Party and am disappointed that they can treat their loyal members in this way.”

Rion Hall

Oxford: The strike was very successful, with the city council largely shut down. There were significant pickets at council offices in the town centre, and a large one at Marsh Road refuse workers depot in east Oxford.

The rally of 200 in the city centre was the best supported trade union protest in years.

Martin Gregory, chair Oxford City Unison

Southend: Libraries were closed, as were youth centres and a learning disabilities day centre. Over 150 pickets gathered at the civic centre and then marched to a rally.

Other unions sent messages of support. Strikers were determined that they would win this fight over pensions and not be pushed into poverty pensions.

Claire Wormald

Norwich: Some 150 people rallied after pickets covered workplaces across the city.

Cath Elliot, Norwich Unison’s women’s officer, said, “The turnout has been brilliant. This is exactly the kind of union solidarity we need to defend our pensions. We will keep on fighting.”

Julie Bremner

Swansea: Most schools and council offices in Swansea were shut, with picket lines outside many places. Over 100 attended a rally in the centre of town. The general mood was really upbeat and positive.

People spoke about the need for more action, with some arguing that the best way forward is a second national strike rather than the regional action that has been proposed.

We stressed the importance of defending future workers’ rights, not just existing employees.

Sian Ruddick and Nimi Trivedi

Derby: About 300 people attended a rally in Derby to protest about the attack on the local government pension scheme.

Most of these people had been on the many picket lines in Derby. They were lively and full of humour, but there was also an underlying mood of anger and defiance.

As Nathan Coons put it, “It is time to stand up for our pension rights. We need unity to defend the rights we already have.”

Martin Sear

Cambridge: Pickets made a strong showing. Postal workers refused to deliver to council offices. There was a successful rally outside the council offices.

Steve Sweeney, the Unison assistant secretary of the Cambridge health branch and Respect candidate for Cambridge Barhill, received loud applause when he announced that Unison was going to withhold funds from the Labour Party.

Southampton: Office sites had turned away the post and delivery vans and the general feeling were very positive. There was about 250 at the rally at the civic centre, with speeches from all the unions and solidarity from local hospital workers.

Bob Cox

Manchester: Some 250 strikers heard T&G union convenor Jimmy Thornton attack “John Prescott’s £94,000 pension”—the average striker’s pension is under £4,000.

Pickets were out across Manchester. Nahella Ashraf is the Respect candidate for Rusholme ward. She said, “I’ve been to visit five picket lines this morning—the mood’s absolutely buzzing. There’s a fighting spirit, and people are geared up for the next strike.”

Manchester housing pickets describe “a mass stayaway” at the town hall and nearby Heron House. 

Mike Killian

Bury: Picketers united outside workplaces. The mood was defiant yet cheerful.

About 70 gathered for a rally at the town hall. There was talk of having another strike on 4 May, which is the day of the local elections.

Anne Saxon

Liverpool: There was no “ferry across the Mersey” or for that matter cars in the tunnels as over 30,000 workers throughout Merseyside joined the strike in defence of their pensions.

In a nice touch of international solidarity there was “only sky above us” with flights to France abandoned due to strike action in Paris.

Picket lines were lively and well attended. The strike was a real boost for activists who had been demoralised by the defeat last year of the Liverpool social workers’ strike and the sacking of a trade unionist in Sefton.

Dave Bridge

Bristol: Some 3,000 joined the strikers’ march in Bristol, with many banners and a brass band. The strike is very successful with most workplaces solid. The central library was closed.

Dave Weltman

Lambeth: I am standing as a council candidate for Respect in Tower Hamlets, east London, on 4 May, but on Tuesday I was standing on a picket line in Lambeth, south London.

I work for Connexions. Most of my workplace is not unionised, but today’s action will lead to many discussions about the need for unions. I was really lifted by the public’s support for the picket.

Rebecca Townesend

Barnsley: The strike was solid. There was a well attended union rally in the town centre.

Barnsley College was closed for students. Dozens of Natfhe lecturers’ union members refused to cross picket lines.

Many schools were closed for the day too and NUT

teachers’ union members refused to cross picket lines. There were big pickets of Napo members outside the probation service offices.

Management kept Wakefield College open, but significant numbers of Natfhe members refused to cross picket lines.

Dave Gibson

Ashfield: Everything was closed down. Lots of arms length

management organisation housing company workers refused to go to work. Councillors and members of the firefighters’ FBU union joined the picket lines.

Richard Buckwell, Ashfield Unison branch secretary

Nottingham: Around 400 schools were closed across Nottinghamshire. City centre car parks were closed. There were good pickets at council workplaces, with most members respecting picket lines.

There is a general mood for more action. A march of 3,000 climaxed in a rally at the overflowing Albert Hall.

Martin Sleath, senior steward, Nottingham County Unison

Brighton: Hundreds of public sector workers from Unison, GMB and T&G were actively involved in workplace picketing and demonstrating throughout the area.

Three demonstrations from different parts of the city converged on Brighton town hall where a rally of over 500 strikers took place.

Jill, a finance officer, told Socialist Worker, “I started working for the council in 1979 and after such a long time in the job I want to be able to retire at 60. People have joined the union to go on strike.”

Alex Knutsen, Brighton unison branch secretary, said, “We’ve had a fantastic turnout with half the council shut down. The feeling is very strong for people to take action.”

Manus McGrogan

Tyneside: The action was really solid. The metro and the tunnel have been shut, so the whole place is gridlocked.

I don’t think any more than 30 out of around 5,000 workers crossed picket lines.

We had 1,000 people march and attend a rally in the afternoon. It’s been a really great day and people are up for a fight.

Simon Hall

Leicester: There were pickets at the main council offices in Leicester’s New Walk Centre. No one crossed the picket lines, so council buildings were forced to close.

Twenty five people, one in ten of the Unison branch, picketed Loughborough council offices. The postal worker due to deliver the mail refused to cross the picket line.

At a 70-strong NUT union meeting teachers had agreed not to cross picket lines. Over 50 schools closed in Leicester. School students joined the 250 strong rally in the city centre.

Simon Furze

Leeds: Over 1,200 strikers and supporters joined a rally.

They heard councillor Ian Greenwood, the chair of the West Yorkshire local government pension fund, say there was no problem with the pension fund and that the government was making political points at the workers’ expense.

He revealed the fund took in £150 million a year more than it paid out and had assets of £6.3 billion.

Around half the schools in the area were closed, nearly every housing office shut, eight of 11 one-stop shops closed and the refuse collection stopped.

There was a strong mood from pickets that they were ready to take whatever action is now needed to win.

John McDermott, Unison national executive (pc)

Coventry: Around 10,000 people struck in the city. Sports centres libraries and 12 schools were closed.

A manager tried to move a vehicle at Whitley bin depot using refugee workers, but one of them decided to join the union. Three hundred people attended a rally.

Andy Pettit

Highlands: There were 20 pickets at the main council depot in Inverness and 12 at Dingwall.

Some 70-80 workers turned up to a rally in Inverness. People were willing to take more action if necessary and were receptive to the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

Steve Arnott, SSP organiser for the Highlands and Islands

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