Massive public sector pension strike in Wales
Public sector workers show they will not accept pension cuts
Over 40,000 public sector workers in Wales were on strike today as part of a massive UK-wide strike to defend public sector pensions. Try as they might the media could not deny the turnout of strikers. All the carping about the turnout in the strike ballots was blown away as in most workplaces 80-90% of workers voted with their feet and struck.
Thousands of schools, colleges, job centres and hundreds of civil service offices across Wales were shut down by strike action as workers showed their anger at the pension theft being attempted by the ConDem government. The picket lines had an enthusiastic mood as strikers celebrated the united action taking place today with breakfasts and deck chairs side by side with placards and picket tabards.
Thousands of strikers attended rallies across Wales to protest at the threat to their pensions and were joined by council and hospital workers from UNISON, UNITE and GMB, a foretaste of wider action expected in the autumn. “Next time we will have four million on strike if the government does not retreat” declared Dave Bartlett, Ministry of Justice PCS representative, at a rally before the march through Cardiff, an idea echoed throughout Wales.
Many UNISON, UNITE and GMB workers wished they too had been balloted. UNISON members in the further education colleges angrily regretted that they had been sent letters instructing them to cross UCU picket lines when even most managers in the colleges were on strike.
Swansea and south west Wales
Teachers, civil servants, lecturers and many other trade unionists converged onto Swansea's Castle Square at lunchtime to rally support for their first day of strike action to defend their pensions and to stop the attacks on their jobs and conditions.
Dozens of picket lines were scattered across South West Wales, from as far apart as the Job Centre Plus in Pembroke Dock to the massive DVLA site in Swansea with Socialist Party members to the fore in organising the action and addressing the rallies.
Without exception, PCS members in the different departments of the civil service reported the best response ever to the strike call.
Dave Warren on the DVLA picket line pointed to the empty car park as a clear indication of his members feelings. It was the same on the lively picket lines at Land Registry and the Pension Centre in Swansea.
At Llanelli Job Centre the mood amongst pickets was determined and they even recruited a couple of non members who then stayed on to help picket!
Hundreds of schools across the area were closed and a strong delegation of teachers attended the Swansea rally.
UCU at Gower College organised an impressive rally at the Gorseinon campus gates where Socialist party members Carrie Anne Watkins and Alec Thraves were amongst those giving support and solidarity speeches.
PCS members in the Van Road DWP Call Centre face closure of their office in nine months time. They've been told that they will all be redeployed, but they have no idea how that will be possible with the cutbacks taking place. Nevertheless, the mood was good on the picket line. This was the first picket ever mounted at the Caerphilly call centre. They had heard stories from other DWP workplace picket lines and they had decided that this time they had to play their part.
There were 25 on the gates at Ystrad Mynach College, with reps from every department in the college.
"It’s the same old story", said Paul Ford, the UCU branch chair. "The friends of the Tories cock up the economy and we're the ones who have to pay for it. I haven’t seen any college lecturers messing around in the sub prime market.
"I also feel very angry that they always equate our pay with the appalling private sector pensions. What we should be doing as a trade union movement is fighting to raise conditions in the private sector".
The lecturers were very interested to find out about the Youth Fight for Jobs Jarrow March in October and the Merthyr to Cardiff march that will be taking place in August. A number of them contributed to an appeal for support and a YF4J representative will be going back to speak to the branch.
Workers on the picket line at the DWP in Merthyr had the advantage of being in the high street, so they were kept busy by a constant flow of people supporting the dispute. The pickets were in high spirits and they had come so well prepared that they looked as though they were ready to stay for weeks. There were two camera crews filming them, as they talked to the passers by and handed out leaflets and stickers, while their children – freed for picket duty because their teachers were on strike – waved banners in the background. “He knows everything about this dispute”, one worker said of her son.
At a quarter past twelve, the pickets packed up and walked 150 yards down the road to the rally of about 200 in the Civic Centre, which had been organised by Merthyr Trades Council. Royal Mail posties from the CWU, Council workers from Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Unison and the GMB, Unite and UCATT members joined striking PCS, NUT and ATL members. A number of school students had also come, some with their parents, others in groups of friends. Several gave their details and said they would like to come on the Youth Fight for Jobs march from Merthyr to Cardiff.
The response for the trade union speakers was warm and Jaime Davies from the Youth Fight for Jobs was interrupted by applause when he spoke. But when Dai Havard, the MP for Merthyr began to speak one teacher from Pontypridd tried to shut him up.
"What are you doing speaking?!" she shouted. "You don’t support this strike! Ed Milliband doesn’t support it! The Labour Party doesn’t support it. Get off."
The rest of the crowd stayed quiet, but there were quite a few nods of agreement.
The clear feeling was - this is just the start. We are going to fight this government and beat them.
Hundreds of workers picketed across Newport with large picket lines at the Office for National statistics, Intellectual Property Office and Passport Office.
The Passport Office has been earmarked for closure. The government has promised to save 120 jobs but workers at the office are having to reapply for these jobs competing with applicants from outside the office in a full application process. All Home Office workers will be balloted to take action to defend all the Passport Office workers.
At Coleg Gwent in Newport even the principal and managers were on strike. At the DWP call centre pickets reported an even greater response to the strike than in other disputes.
UNISON members from the Royal Gwent and Newport council took time off work to join the 250 strong rally in John Frost square where they heard speaker after speaker condemn the hypocrisy of the Con Dems in attacking their pensions while the fat cats continue to get massive pensions
The poorest speakers were from the main parties. Despite opposing the strike, Labour MPs and AMs were invited to speak, but all declined, citing other meetings and business. Two Labour councillors did speak to attack the other parties. One criticised the turnout at the rally and instructed the strikers to bring "20 each" to the next rally. The Plaid and Green speakers were also poor.
Over sixty strikers joined a rally and march in Llandrindod Wells, Powys. Powys is the largest and most thinly populated of any county in England and Wales, with no big towns, so a rally of this size, with people coming from over fifty miles away shows the depth of feeling on the issue.
Speakers from NUT, ATL and PCS described their members’ anger at the attack on their pensions and wortking conditions. A trade unionist from Remploy reminded people that this was only part of the Government’s attack on working people and on people with disabilities.
Many schools were closed, particularly a majority of Secondary Schools where staff are angered at the Council’s money-saving plan to shut many sixth forms and force pupils to travel even more miles for sixth form education.
There was general agreement that the battle is only beginning and that there is a need to set up Powys Against the Cuts to fight the attacks on our jobs and services.
1000 striking teachers, lecturers, civil servants and their supporters marched through Cardiff in the biggest weekday demonstration organised by the trade union movement in the city in a generation. Let the Government tremble: the organized working class is on the move.
Picketlines earlier in the day had brought to a halt workplaces all over Cardiff. Over 100 schools were partially or fully closed by the strike of ATL and NUT members. PCS members reported that they had never participated in a strike that was so well-observed. 20 people reportedly picketed at Barry Jobcentre. Experienced hands in branches like Companies House - which is fighting a brutal job-cuts plan - organised an exemplary picketline where every person who approached the picket line was stopped, handed material and engaged in discussed. But they were joined by reps in other workplaces who had never picketted before, and by teachers in ATL whose union had never even taken strike action before.
UCU members at UWIC had huge support from members of the public beeping their horns as they passed the Llandaff campus. At a pre-march rally organised by Cardiff Against The Cuts, pensioners, disability-rights campaigners, students and members of unions not yet taking action over pensions, including UNISON, pledged their support to the strikers and called for coordinated action against the cuts.
Supporters of the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign were prominent on the march, chanting "we won't be a lost generation - fight for jobs and education." In early August there will be a march from Merthyr to Cardiff to protest against youth unemployment and Iain Duncan-Smith's attack on claimants.
As the march finished up at the National Assembly in Cathays Park speakers from each of the unions taking action dispelled the myths broadcasted by the bosses and their friends in parliament and the media.
UCU Wales President Guy Stoate, fresh from a victory against victimisation by his employer, siad the movement needed to "Escalate the action so that we become an unstoppable force" and called on more unions to take action. "Noone standing here scrapped private sector pension schemes," He pointed out. "They were scrapped by the greedy bosses who wanted to push their profits up."
Andy Richards, Wales Secretary of Unite and Wales TUC President this year was greeted warmly by strikers when he said "You are an inspiration to our movement and showing the way which we all must follow. The fight back must be coordinated and fully supported by the Wales TUC and as president, I give you that pledge.”
His claim that "the Welsh Labour government is standing up for Wales in Cardiff Bay against imposed cuts in the Welsh budget" was much less well-received. The Assembly is demanding £60million of cuts from the local NHS Trust's budget this year and Cardiff Council is closing care homes and leisure facilities as it passes on the cuts. All day the name "Milliband" was a cue for colourful language and there was a general feeling that - although the strikers had enormous support from ordinary people - there wasn't a single political party willing to stand with them.
Around twenty very tired but pleased strikers and supporters attended a Socialist Party meeting after the rally and the UK Uncut protest which had targetted British Home Stores, with one person signing ip there and then to join the Socialists.
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