The sleepy town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire was woken up this morning by the roar of striking workers marching through the streets.
More than 300 members of the union Unison made their way to rally outside the council meeting at the Shire Hall.
Protesters chanted ‘I’d rather be a picket than a scab’, ‘Public services are not for sale! Put the bankers into jail!’ and ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’. It seemed like every other passing car honked in support.
Strikers were celebrating as their county wide walkout seems to have forced their bosses to back off over some cuts.
Unison branch secretary Alan James told the rally that the Tory-run council had finally agreed to talk yesterday.
“Don’t be in any doubt that if they thought today was going to be a damp squib then that wouldn’t have happened,” he told the crowd.
“It’s a credit to you all if we hadn’t showed solidarity then nothing would have changed.”
The council was planning to tear up contracts and force through pay cuts—including a brutal attack on sick pay.
Alan suggested that the branch may accept some cuts—but denied there was any “secret deal”, saying there would be a members’ meeting to decide.
Although the strike was over pay and conditions, workers were keen to talk about the wider effects of the cuts.
“People have lost their jobs,” social worker Sue told Socialist Worker. “Every department across the council has lost workers.
“I’m worried about the effect on services, the meals on wheels service is gone. And the only day centre for disabled people was closed.”
Ken is a care worker in a day centre for elderly people. “They’ve closed my day centre on Saturday’s now,” he said.
“We used to be open all year—including Christmas. But now they’ve stopped opening on any holiday.
“They even told us the lunches for the elderly people can only cost £3, the upshot of that is they won’t get a pudding any more. How pathetic is that?”
Meanwhile, the rally heard the council chief executive Kim Riley is living it up today on a trip to the US. One placard accused him of “living the life of Riley”.
Colin, who is long term sick, came to support the workers.
“It’s an injustice that they can cut their pay while they buy iPads for all the councillors,” he said.
He was angry at all the Tory cuts. “David Cameron spends £125 an hour on a personal trainer,” he said. “I get £64 a week to live on.”
Ken agreed that the blame lies with Tory government.
“They say we have to make cuts, but they can drop £1 million a day on Libya,” he said.
“We’re not just here for our own cuts, you won’t be able to print what I think of the Tories. But we need to go and tell them to stop all the cuts, now.”
Thanks to Ryan Allen for extra reporting
March on the Tory conference. Sunday 2 October. Assemble 12noon, Liverpool Road (off Deansgate), Manchester M3 4JR. Organised by the TUC, initiated by the Right to Work campaign. For full details see www.righttowork.org.uk
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