UnionNews looks back at the Day of Action and says unions have forced the government onto the back foot
Two million trade unionists are today looking at one another with new confidence and pride following the day they made history.
Angry at the government’s plans to make them work longer, pay more and receive less for their pensions, public sector workers on Wednesday took to the streets in towns and cities across the UK. There were an estimated 50,000 at a rally in London, 30,000 in Manchester, 20,000 in Bristol and 15,000 in Liverpool.
Speaking at a rally in Birmingham, after an estimated 4,000 people marched through the city, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Today will go down in history as the largest coordinated industrial action, the biggest demonstration of determination and defiance, that this country has witnessed for almost a century.
“Today, history has been made – not by politicians – not by bankers and business leaders, but by the millions of ordinary men and women – few of them militants or hardened activists, many thousands who have never taken industrial action before, who, with courage and quiet resolve have said: ‘enough is enough’.
It was not just the picket lines that made the news, though, with Prime Minister David Cameron being made to eat his words after describing the strikes as a “damp squib”, the Department of Health being accused of fiddling figures to play down the number of strikers and, of course, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson being forced to apologise for saying strikers should be shot in front of their families.
But UnionNews would prefer to focus on the huge success of the strikes, and the sense of determination, unity and hope they engendered among working people. While Cameron may not publicly concede any ground, UnionNews believes because so many people from so many unions were on strike at so many places, the government had no option other than to hear our message.
The government now faces a crossroads: it either makes concessions and loses face, or it presses on and loses power in the next election. UnionNews believes, despite the tough talk from Westminster, the government is on the back foot. We should seize the moment.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The government should turn its attention from trying to down play what was the biggest strike in a generation, stop the war of words and get on with serious negotiations where they spell out exactly what they are now proposing in each scheme.
“Unions want to see a fair negotiated settlement and are ready for the intensive talks we now need, but those talks need content and that can only come from ministers.”
There was similar tough talk from Dave Prentis, who said: “To those who thought the union movement was dead and irrelevant – today is your answer. To ministers who thought they could bully – today is your lesson, and your warning. And to millions of working people, throughout the land suffering at the hands of this cruel coalition, close to giving up hope, let today be the day you take heart, take courage and resolve to stand and fight for what is right.
“Hands off our pensions, hands off our public services, and while you’re at it you can hand back the keys to downing street. Be in no doubt, that day will come. I can’t give you an exact date, but I know that today with this magnificent show of spirit and strength you’ve certainly brought it closer.
“Be proud of what you have done today. The day you made your stand, the day you made a difference, the day you all made history and I am sure that one day we’ll look back and say today was the day we turned the tide.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, speaking at the London rally, said: “Today is the day when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers say ‘enough is enough’ and that the legacy of 1945 is well worth fighting for.
‘Today will be remembered as the day when the trade union movement renewed and strengthened its compact with the British people and clearly stated it was fighting back on behalf of families and communities struggling with soaring household bills and record levels of unemployment.
‘The action today has been a brilliant display of courage and concern by public servants who are being demonised by a government that has lost its moral compass.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said 84% of the union’s members were on strike: “Every single person on strike today should be proud of themselves and the millionaires in the government should be ashamed of themselves. They said this day would never happen but this is the best day for the trade union movement in generations. The strikers are an inspiration. The message to the government is if you don’t negotiate with us we will do this again. They should go into work tomorrow with their heads held high.”
The CSP estimates 90% of its members – 20,700 – were on strike. Alex MacKenzie, chair of the union’s industrial relations committee said: “Physiotherapy staff demonstrated their anger over these pensions proposals by turning out in huge numbers. No-one wanted to strike, but our members felt we had to take a stand.
“I’m also in no doubt that the turnout was bolstered by Tuesday’s announcement by George Osborne that the current pay freeze will be followed by a wage rise capped at just one per cent. Our members are being squeezed at both ends of their career and that is simply unfair.
“Physiotherapy staff are committed healthcare professionals who would rather be caring for patients than worrying about their pensions. The government must look at today’s major industrial action and recognise that the only way forward is meaningful talks with the aim of reaching a negotiated agreement on the future of the NHS pension scheme.
“The government must look at yeseterday’s major industrial action and recognise that the only way forward is meaningful talks with the aim of reaching a negotiated agreement on the future of the NHS pension scheme.”
Prospect said 26,000 members were striking at 400 locations. General secretary Paul Noon said: “The turnout shows a massive degree of backing for the stand taken by the unions that there must be a fair deal on pensions leading to a negotiated settlement.
“On top of that, George Osborne’s action on Tuesday in slapping a 1% pay curb on public servants for another two years has upset people more than anything I have seen in 35 years as a trade unionist.
“People who have never been on strike before came out yesterday and said: the way public servants are being treated is simply wrong, unfair and unworthy of any government.”
Speaking at a rally in Manchester, ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “Let’s tell it straight to the government. It is no good for them to ignore us for eleven months and then, on the 2nd of November, for them to give us their final proposals for public sector pensions, and then expect us to negotiate a deal by the end of the year. It just isn’t possible and we will not be hounded or threatened by a government which repeatedly demonstrates its complete incompetence. While we are prepared to be reasonable, we will not be walked over.”
Strike action by RMT members on Tyne and Wear Metro and the ferries led to a total shutdown of key transport services in the North East.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “RMT transport workers in the North East and our members on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the service that supplies the Royal Navy fleet around the world in times of both war and peace, are standing shoulder to shoulder with millions of other public service workers involved in the action.
“We are sending the clearest message to the government that we will defend our pensions to the hilt and the outrageous demand that our members should work longer, pay more and get less has been thrown back in the faces of this government of millionaire public schoolboys.
“It’s the bankers and the bosses who have gambled with our country’s future and the men and women who make our services tick should not have to tolerate a worse pension, and be forced to work longer, to make up for their mistakes.”
UCATT members throughout the UK based in councils, outsourced companies, the NHS, the Civil Service and the Prison Service have backed the one-day strike. The workers involved are primarily employed to undertake, repairs, maintenance and infrastructure work on public buildings and in council and social housing.
UCATT members in councils, outsourced companies, the NHS, the Civil Service and the Prison Service who formed picket lines at council depots and other workplaces reported overwhelming support from fellow workers and the general public. The strikers were primarily employed to undertake, repairs, maintenance and infrastructure work on public buildings and in council and social housing.
Acting general secretary George Guy said: “Our members have been forced to take industrial action due to the government’s plans to cut their pensions. This action was not taken lightly. The overwhelmingly solid level of support demonstrates the anger felt by UCATT members.”
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