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Pensions strike reports - Thursday 10 May
Prison officers have walked out today to join hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers taking strike action in defence of their pensions.
Trade unionists taking action include the PCS civil servants' union; Unite in health, Ministry of Defence and the civil service; lecturers in UCU; and members of the Nipsa public services union in Northern Ireland.
RMT transport union members in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are also taking action to defend their retirement benefits and tens of thousands of off-duty police are demonstrating today against privatisation and cuts.
Some reports from the picket lines and rallies:
(latest at top)
Hackney: A first and a last time on the picket line
At Hackney DWP office the pickets were happy. Only 27 of the Hackney Benefit Centre workforce of 270 had gone in and it was not raining! They had heard Mark Serwotka on the radio at 6am and thought he had done a good job. "It's good to have one of the 'awkward squad' as a leader!" commented Amore.
She went on to say that this was the last picket line she will be on: "I'm retiring on 1st June with that fantastic, 'gold-plated' civil service pension which does not add up to that much. But it's good to be going now. Carrying on 'til you're 68 is just too long. And it's wrong! Older workers staying on longer is blocking the chances of younger people.
As far as developing the movement is concerned, it's great that the police are out today against the cuts but we haven't got Unison. Shame on the Unison leaders! No-one wants to lose a day's pay but us not using our labour is our weapon. I have seen a lot of changes over the years. Almost everything that could be privatised has been... the messenger/courier service, the management of the buildings, the cleaning, the post... But luckily the workers are still in the PCS."
For another worker, Ali, it was his first time ever on strike: "I have been here for ten years but have not been 'allowed' to go on strike before. In the time I've been here, the number of people working in my team has gone from four full-timers plus five part-time to the two of us.
Of course technology has changed some of the communications, but it's still hard! They push you around when they feel like it; let go when they feel like it. You feel like a football, or like a boat on a rough sea! I am 32 now. I started working at 16 and they want me to go on for nearly another 35 years! I have a family, children. Where will my freedom be? I am so glad to be on the picket line and so sad to see anyone going in. We need to win!"
Torrential rain drove the Swansea strike rally indoors but over 100 people crowded into a nearby church hall to hear speakers from PCS, Unite, UCU and Swansea Trades Council. There was a combative mood; speakers from those unions on strike called on others to join them in rebuilding the alliance that shook the Tories on 30 November. Members of unions not taking action on 10 May told of members who were frustrated and ready to strike and called from the floor for extended joint action in the near future.
Ronnie Job, representing Swansea Trades Council, was applauded when he said he was at the rally because he refused to cross a picket line of his comrades in UCU. He said that workers are ready to fight on pensions, regional pay, in defence of the NHS and to oppose all cuts - "we won't pay a penny more for the crisis of the bankers and the markets".
Speaking for the PCS, Dominic McFadden drew attention to the fact that cuts are unnecessary and unjustifiable when the rich and corporations escape paying tax to the tune of £123 billion each year. Unite speaker John Sloane talked of NHS cuts in England but was reminded from the floor that local health boards are planning for cuts of 5% a year for the next three years. Both speakers called for the leaders of the unions not on strike to match the fighting spirit of their members and rejoin the pensions struggle.
Visteon pensioners, who have been fighting Fords for over three years for pensions justice, explained how private sector employers have raided pension funds and the inadequacies of the pension protection fund. Chair Dave Warren, Socialist Party and PCS member, in summing up the rally stressed unity and solidarity and the need to build from here. Forward to further and bigger coordinated action! Defend all pensions! Stop all cuts!
Liverpool - strong strike turnout and support for further action
60,000 public sector workers in the North West region demonstrated their loathing of the Con-Dem government by taking strike action on 10 May. All reports indicated a truly magnificent response to this latest call for strike action.
Some 400 workers packed into a rally at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool to hear Hugh Lanning of the PCS, Rachael Maskel of Unite, a speaker from NUT and Steve Todd of the RMT deliver fighting speeches. They received an enthusiastic response when all speakers declared that the fight goes on. Immediate applause met Hugh Lanning's call for the TUC to organise further industrial action to defeat the attack on pensions.
Printers' spokesperson Terry O'Connor representing 160 workers who have been ruthlessly sacked by international printing conglomerate MMP outlined the extent of their struggle, explaining that the workers were still determined to defend their conditions after sixteen weeks of industrial action. Reflecting the determined mood of the rally, he received a magnificent standing ovation when he declared they would fight until victory was achieved.
Liverpool TUSC mayoral candidate Tony Mulhearn was called in to speak by chairman Martin Kelsey. He received an immediate round of applause. Tony took the opportunity of thanking all PCS members and members of other unions who had given him magnificent support during his campaign and declared that the almost 5% of the vote he received was significant and a basis for developing the anti-cuts campaign which is bound to intensify as the cuts begin to bite even deeper during the next months and years.
He stated that his campaign policy was based on the policy of the PCS and the TUC, and he called on the TUC to emulate the actions of the PCS to work for a general strike to topple the Con-Dem government which is mired in sleaze and corruption and representing only the richest 1%. This provoked stormy applause. He told the rally that if Labour was elected tomorrow, Miliband's policy of carrying out the cuts should be rejected, and workers are entitled to demand all cuts should be restored, the NHS be brought back into public ownership and the value of pensions restored. If this did not happen what was the Labour Party for? Again this was greeted with applause.
The spirit of the rally belied government ministers' claims that the strikes were fizzling out, in fact they were supported by a greater percentage of workers in the unions taking action than last November's fantastic turnout. The 10 May action has set a course for the next stage of the campaign which will be fuelled by the intransigence of the Con-Dems' bunker mentality of 'no retreat from austerity'. The next few months of campaigning trade union activity will seriously test the resolve of even this boneheaded Con-Dem administration.
Sheffield: Four teams of Socialist Party members visited picket lines across the city, the best supported being Unite Health members at Hallamshire hospital, UCU members at Hillsborough college and PCS members at St Paul's Place (DfE & BIS). At the hospital, a Unison member had refused to go into work, went home, got changed and joined the Unite strikers on the picket line.
Over 200 strikers came together for a dinner-time rally outside the town hall. Among the speakers was Socialist Party member Marion Lloyd (PCS NEC) who said that today's strike had reignited the pensions battle which given the government's weakness can still be won, and that 11 governments have fallen so far in Europe trying to impose austerity, so let's make Cameron number 12!
In a show of public sector and private sector unity, about 20 PCS members joined a dozen striking Aslef members protesting outside Sheffield railway station. The Aslef train drivers were on their fourth strike day against an East Midland Trains attack on their pensions. Alistair Tice
Leeds: Richard Chamberlain, POA branch chair at HMP Leeds, when interviewed by Iain Dalton outside Armley prison, said: "We're protesting against the retirement age of prison officers which is now being confirmed and verified at 68. We don't feel that's safe, practical or realistic. We've had numerous reforms to the prison service pension over the years, the most recent of which was in 2006 which made our pension scheme absolutely sustainable and gave a retirement age of 65 to prison officers.
"The proposal which is now being implemented, for prison officers to retire at 68, is just ridiculous and outrageous. Other first line emergency services have been given dispensation so they've retained earlier retirement ages in recognition of the type of job that they do - people like the armed forces, police, fire service. We feel that should be extended to us. Talks have broken down. The government's position is that prison officers should work longer, pay higher contributions and get a worse pension when they retire. Which is why we've been forced to take this action today."
Dave Spagnol, PCS Branch secretary, for the Outer East London DWP branch explains why the PCS are on strike in Barking.
East London: Pickets at Settles Street NINO (national insurance number processing office) in Tower Hamlets had a solid turnout for the strike. As well as real anger over the pensions, PCS members are fighting against management bullying and mismanagement.
Many staff are bitterly unhappy at a scheme for reorganising document checking for people applying for national insurance numbers. One picket explained: "We check documents on site as well as interviewing people, but just as the Olympics are coming up and there is so much focus on security, they want to lessen security in document checking.
"At the moment you have people working on it full time who know what they're doing and they're really good. But management wants to change this to a rota system where different offices will check documents for six months, and move the people who are currently checking documents to seeing applicants.
"Workers will get one day of training, and then for six months they might not do that job, so how are they going to remember how to do it? It's ridiculous. That's the system we had 10 years ago and it never worked properly - that's why it was changed to checking all documents on site in 2008".
The vast majority of people who came out on 30 November were out again on 10 May, but one manager who has since been upgraded and given a £7 a week pay rise, decided to cross the picket line this time. "Now we know his price, it's pretty cheap", said one of the pickets. Four out of five bought a copy of the Socialist. Naomi Byron
Wirral: Thousands of PCS union members on Wirral, working in Land Registry, Job Centre Plus, Child Support Agency, County and Magistrate courts and the Lady Lever Art Gallery, took strike action today. There was excellent support for the strike by members of PCS Land Registry Birkenhead branch with only 2% of members going into work. We had 22 pickets and supporters on the picket line. After the picket line hundreds of public sector union members attended a rally in Liverpool where Tony Mulhearn addressed the meeting from the floor and called on the TUC and Ed Miliband to have the courage to stand up for ordinary working people rather than supporting the need for austerity, just slower. This was met by loud applause. Dave Lunn
Belfast: In Belfast, Nipsa (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance) and PCS took coordinated strike action. Unite Health were out for 12 hours, Nipsa in Health for two. More Nipsa members went into work than on N30, but the PCS strike turnout stayed strong. There were 300 at an indoor rally. Socialist Party member Billy Lynn, chairperson of the civil service executive committee for Nipsa, spoke first, explaining a strategy of escalating united action to defeat the Tories' austerity agenda for pensions and the public sector. Ian Pattison
Exeter: There was a good mood on the picket lines in Exeter and lots of lively debate was had about fighting the pensions attacks but also austerity politics in general. PCS and UCU members then leafleted in town getting great support from the general public. A rally of over 30 people was also good, hearing very political speeches from representatives of the striking unions, including Socialist Party member Jim Thomson, who called for further escalating and coordinated action.
National prison officers' action: A Prison Officers Association (POA) leader reports that the POA took seven hours of national action today. The action was solid in Scotland, and 80% solid in England and Wales. At Belmarsh prison, 80 officers walked out and 40 remained at work. However, when the prison governor threatened disciplinary action on the strikers, the working 40 decided to walk out too, and did.
Wormwood Scrubs prison, London: The anger of Prison Officers and other prison staff was demonstrated today. Again, as they have done before, at a moment's notice, 97% of POA members due on duty at Wormwood Scrubs didn't go in and stayed on the picket line, 150 strong. Also there were 70 out at Brixton prison.
At the Scrubs a larger number of police were sent to the scene than last time, but they were largely sympathetic. They had to resist the governor's request to move the strikers off the forecourt as they said it would endanger the pickets. As they changed shifts some were going to the mass police march.
Alan Gourley, the POA branch chair, said: 'The police respect our cause as the pension issue affects them also'. He said: 'This is a great turnout considering the members' worries about losing their jobs, I am proud of our members. However this is literally a life and death issue for us. How can they expect us to do this dangerous job until the age of 68? This is the issue for today's action. Society owes them a debt for doing this job and most people recognise that'.
Today has been a great success, up until 10am, two meetings were held to keep the pickets up to date with the day's developments. All the prison vans where turned away so no prisoners were sent to the Crown and Magistrates courts. The UCU rep in the prison had been going straight to the Central London demonstration when she heard the POA was on strike and diverted to the prison to give solidarity. Keith Dickinson
15.15 PCS sends out press release on strike figures: "The government's claims about numbers of civil servants on strike over pensions are wildly inaccurate ... Nearly 200,000 PCS members have walked out - according to figures communicated to the union's head office from picket lines across the UK.
"There are also thousands of civil servants on strike from Unite, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), the Prison Officers' Association (POA) and the Immigration Service Union (ISU). Cabinet office minister Francis Maude has claimed only 100,000 civil servants are on strike. In fact the number is well over 200,000.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'Instead of announcing made-up figures to undermine the strike Francis Maude should be acknowledging that there is huge opposition, and start meaningful negotiations about public service pensions'."
15.00 Leeds: 300 have attended a Leeds strike rally where Socialist Party member and PCS vice-president John McInally was amongst the speakers. Youth Fight for Jobs had a noisy contingent on the demonstration. Iain Dalton
14.40 Winchester: Winchester University UCU picketed the main entrance to the King Alfred Campus today as part of the ongoing dispute over public sector pensions. From 8am union members leafleted passers-by and spirits were high as over a dozen strikers crowded onto the pavement sharing out the biscuits and sweets donated by well-wishers. Although it was quiet on campus, with many students now entering the exam period, there was a feeling that the strike had been a success.
There had been talk that the university management was bringing in outside invigilators to cover the exams that they had not bothered to rearrange, cover that they had orginally pressured other staff to do. A united front from the Unison and UCU unions had quickly been formed, refusing to allow their members to be forced into doing the work of those on strike. Management had clearly backed down and hired in people to oversee the few exams taking place from off-campus.
By lunchtime the pickets were boosted by support staff who took advantage of their break to join the picketeers and show support. Strikers discussed what would happen next in Britain following the recent council elections. It was clear that the events in Greece and France with the gains made by the Left on an anti-austerity ticket had had a big impact on them. However foremost in the minds of those on strike was that the action has to be esclated to involve other teaching unions and the rest of the public sector workers. Those out today were already veterans of half a dozen pickets but were determined that next time it would be bigger and better! Hampshire Socialist Party
14.00 Brighton: 70 took part in a rally at the town hall, with good speeches and a good mood. At lunchtime there are 20 on a picket at the Royal Sussex hospital.
13.30 London: The strike rally in Methodist Central Hall is underway with 700 strikers present. As well as speakers from leaders of the unions taking strike action, including Mark Serwotka (PCS) and Len McCluskey (Unite), Christine Blower has spoken from the National Union of Teachers - a union that took national action in defence of pensions along with other public sector unions last year but is unfortunately not taking action today.
She made no concrete promises at the rally but said that the campaign against the pension attacks will continue.
Applause was given to an audience members who shouted out: "Why wasn't the NUT on strike today?".
Bob Crow received huge applause when he said that the rest of the trade union movement has got to wake up and start looking towards a 24 hour strike against the government's austerity measures.
He called for the prison officers and police (both also demonstrating today) to be brought on board as part of the movement. "We need the entire trade union movement to link up with the community and all hit by austerity" he urged, and he finished with another much applauded call for the TUC general council to call general strike action.
Mark Serwotka paid tribute to all involved in the day's 400,000-strong action, including the jurors who refused to cross the picket line outside a London court, the "brave men and women" in the Prison Officers Association, and the lecturers who are out again in force. He said we should take heart from Greece, with its 15 general strikes and now a strong vote against austerity by the electorate. He called on the TUC to re-open talks with the government on public sector pensions and said that a commitment for more action is necessary. The PCS executive has agreed to organise further action in June. "Going on strike is not easy, but we have to reaffirm that the alternative to fighting is to lose", he said in his closing remarks.
Len McCluskey reminded the audience that the strike is speaking "on behalf of millions of ordinary men and women". He spoke of the need to pick up the momentum again after the N30 strike and said that there will be "more strike action in June, in the summer, in the autumn, in the winter and on and on and on" if necessary. The trade union leaders have to step up and give the leadership that's now needed.
13.00 Southampton: PCS pickets were out in Southampton this morning at HMRC and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency. PCS Rep Andy at MCA said: "Frances Maude says strikes are futile. Anything but. We can't afford to back down. If we do, some may never see their pension. We've no choice but to keep up the fight til we get proper negotiations". Tina at HMRC said: "My contributions have doubled. What for? This is plain wrong". PCS members said support was as strong as ever with over 85% supporting the action. Nick Chaffey
13.00 London: 400 Unite health strikers and supporters have marched across Westminster Bridge from St Thomas's hospital to attend a lunchtime rally with other unions in the Methodist Central Hall.
12.30 Nottingham: Over 300 at rally in Nottingham city centre, joined by Aslef workers on East Midlands trains on strike - public and private sector workers together fighting to defend pensions! Becci Heagney
11.40 Canterbury: Canterbury College UCU pickets are solid and well manned. They send solidarity to all strikers. The Students Union president joined them on the lines. PCS at the DWP and Courts in Canterbury were out - small but determined. At Canterbury prison, I was a solitary PCS member but was then joined by Socialist Party members. In Folkestone, PCS were solid at Customs for the Eurostar, and Dover Port reported the same. Dave Semple (East Kent Socialist Party)
11.20 Manchester: Around 100 on a Unite Health demo at Manchester Royal Infirmary, with the Unite members on strike at Central Manchester Foundation Trust joined by Unite members from other local hospitals and NHS Trusts. Unison members on their way into work, and patients at the hospital, joined the demonstration to show their support. PCS - strong support for action at workplaces including HMRC and British council, pickets say "only the usual suspects" are scabbing with a J30-style strike rate and good pickets. Hugh Caffrey
11.19 PCS press release - Solidarity with prison officers' walkouts: "Prison officers have been holding protest meetings at jails across Britain this morning against government plans to link their pension age to the state pension age. The Prison Officers' Association is the second biggest civil service union - after PCS.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: 'I send solidarity to the brave members of the POA who have defied draconian laws that ban them from taking industrial action by walking out to hold protest meetings at jails today. We share their concerns about the health of workers in stressful public sector jobs being forced to work to 68 before they can take a decent pension. Our message to the government is clear - 68 is too late and it is not fair to make civil servants work longer and pay more for smaller pensions'."
11.10: Swansea: Some very hardy pickets were out in hailstorms in Swansea today, sending a very clear message that the pensions dispute is very much still on. Socialist Party members visiting picket lines and bringing solidarity from Swansea Trades Council, at Singleton Hospital, the Pensions Centre, Land Registry, DVLA, Gower College Swansea and others found strikers in a determined mood.
There was pride at being part of a movement that has refused to buckle but also anger at the leadership of those unions that have held their members back, particularly Unison. In my workplace Unison members were angry at the expectation from the union's leaders that they cross UCU picket lines; "we should have been out on strike together" was heard more than once from both members who refused to cross picket lines and those who went in through fear.
The breaking of the 30 November coalition has already encouraged the government to press ahead with regional pay; as we warned, weakness invites aggression. Despite all the obstacles put in their way by their own union's leadership, Unison members in Health still voted against the pensions deal.
Socialist Party members are on the way to the strike rally in Swansea to argue for the rebuilding of the coalition of unions that struck on N30 and its extension to include private sector workers in united action that can defeat the attacks on our pensions and this government. Ronnie Job
10.34 Nottingham: Following the mass walkout by POA members at HMP Nottingham, about 100 prison officers are on a picket line with PCS members.
10.28 Brighton: There are pickets at Brighton City college, three at the university, the Job Centre (with the benefits claimants group joining the picket), the courts, and HMRC. In Lewes there are 25 picketing the Sussex Coast college. Overall a very good mood and leaflets from the National Shop Stewards Network are being received well: "That's exactly what we need". A demo is starting at 11am.
10.00 Prisons: More reports coming in of prison officers striking at prisons, including Nottingham and Wormwood Scrubs; as well as those reported earlier: Armley (Leeds) and Brixton. Around 70 walked out at Brixton and refused to return to work when the deputy governor asked them to. UCU and PCS members are going to the prison to support the walkout.
9.26 London: Once again Westminster is a sea of pickets at the heart of government. Pickets at Parliament, Scotland Yard, Home Office... Strikers at the passport office say its 90% solid. Usually they would do 1,000 passports a day but today they are expecting it to be less than 100. Paula Mitchell
9.04 Leeds: There is a strongly supported walkout by POA members at Armley prison. We spoke to branch chair Rich Chamberlain who explained that they had walked out because the government is increasing their retirement age to 68. They joined PCS members, admin and training officers picketing outside the prison. Iain Dalton
8.39 East London: A picket line has been set up at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel for health workers from all over Tower Hamlets. Over 50 Unite members from the mental health team at Mile End hospital have informed management they would be on strike today, including many of the senior psychologists. Naomi Byron
8.36 Brixton: Prison officers at Brixton prison have walked out en masse. They have been interviewed on Sky News.
8.10 Leeds: Leeds HMRC workers are being visited by Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs activists
7.50 Nottingham: PCS members are out in Nottingham on lively picket lines around the HMRC buildings, dressed as robbers to represent the Tories' pension theft. Getting lots of support from cars and people passing by. Becci Heagney