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Nation-wide Strikes over Pensions

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Nation-wide Strikes over Pensions

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Nation-wide Strikes over Pensions

{short description of image} London
London London
London: The front of the march took just under two hours to reach the rally point, Westminster Central Hall.

On Thursday, June 30, four major unions, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the University and College Union (UCU), and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), united in strike action over government proposed cuts to pensions. There were strikes all over the country for the alternative against the plans of the ConDem government to cut the pension benefits of the public sector workers and use increased contributions to pay the financial oligarchy gangsters that are wrecking the economy to safeguard their position.

The government is proposing to increase the retirement age, and the monthly contributions of public sector workers, whilst at the same time reducing the amount of pension that workers receive at the end of their working life. But the government has also targeted the private sector, especially private school teachers, with a proposal to de-link the pensions of private school teachers altogether from the state teacher pension scheme. This would severely impact on the well-being of private school teachers. They would be forced to enter into private pension arrangement, and, as it stands, many smaller schools refuse to pay into the existing pension schemes. This proposal, if implemented, would dramatically increase the amount that private school teachers pay into their pension funds making them materially worse off now and possibly leaving them impoverished in their old age.

london London London

When these proposals were first mooted, the NUT and the ATL balloted all their members across Britain and these unions voted in favour by majorities, respectively, of 92% and 83%. In the case of ATL, this was all the more astonishing because they are known as a “non-strike” union and this is the first time they have ever called for a strike.

There was a tremendous response to the strike call. Three quarters of a million teachers and public service workers went on strike. Many schools closed throughout Britain. Many remained open but refused to teach actual lessons, preferring instead to provide a pastoral care for children that came to school.

The march in London began at Lincoln’s Inn Field. Everyone congregated there at 11am and the actual march began at 11.40am. All the unions were fully represented and the start point for the march was thronging with people. There was a tremendous atmosphere, almost carnival like, with music being played through loud speakers and bands playing.

The front of the march took just under two hours to reach the rally point, Westminster Central Hall, London. Once there, people were ushered inside the hall and it quickly filled up with people, downstairs and then up, in the three separate galleries.

London London
London London

All the general secretaries of all the four unions involved in Thursday’s day of action were there and addressed the rally. The various speakers talked about the injustice of the government proposals. One speaker made the point that for many teachers, the very idea of going on strike was the most difficult thing because, by their very nature, teachers do what they do because they believe in their vocation, and it goes against the grain to go on strike and not teach or look after the children who would normally be in their care. So it was all the more significant that so many people chose to take a stand on Thursday.

And three younger teachers spoke at the rally. One woman said that she was only 23 years old. She said that, under the proposals, she would be expected to work until she was 68, that her pension contributions would dramatically increase, that she would actually receive 25% less pension when she retires than people retiring now can expect, and that to add insult to injury, she had just spent the last five years gaining a degree and the qualifications necessary to become a teacher, a profession she has chosen because she cares passionately about the development of children, and she is still and will be for some time paying off the student loan debt incurred in order to gain these qualifications. She said that these conditions are making her think seriously about whether she has made the right choices in terms of her career, and that many younger would-be teachers are choosing not to go into teaching at all.

Many speakers made the point that there has been no justification on the part of the government to explain the necessity for these cuts to pensions. They have merely asserted that it is necessary. Many made the point that the government has seemed more than ready to bail out the banks, paying bankers and financiers huge sums in bonuses and rewards, and yet they are treating teachers and public sector workers so appallingly and without regard. With so many teachers struggling to pay off mortgages, and with the younger teachers coming through already saddled with large debt incurred through doing the study and attaining the qualifications necessary to become a teacher, the government’s call on teachers to “tighten their belts”, especially when the government is throwing money at the banks and to the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya, is just offensive!

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The atmosphere in Westminster Central Hall was very buoyant and militant. Several of the speakers, including Mary Bousted of ATL, were given standing ovations and the mood was one of determination to force the government to withdraw these backward and potentially crippling proposals.

About 20 minutes into the rally the chair of the meeting announced that the people at the back of the march had only just left Lincoln’s Inn Field. A great cheer went up! The chair announced that the police had estimated that there were 20,000 people on the march. But if people were still leaving the start point of the march two hours after the front of the march had reached and gone into the Hall for the rally, there must have been at least 40,000 people, if not more involved in the London march!

In the end, the march and rally was a great success! It showed, and the various speakers at the rally affirmed, that the show of strength and the determination of all those who took part in the day’s events was a mark of how deeply everyone feels about this issue. No one wanted to be there really. They all felt it keenly that they could not be with their students and pupils that day. But everyone on that march and rally said that they were there because they cared, and that the only responsible thing they could do was to demonstrate against the government’s proposed cuts to pensions.

Bristol Bristol
Bristol Bristol
Bristol: March and Rally.

At the end of the meeting, it was affirmed that if the government refuses to listen, then all present at the rally are determined to fight on. The unity of all the four unions was also affirmed. Both NUT and ATL general secretaries said that the issue was not whether teachers worked in the private or public sector, but that all teachers were working hard for the betterment and education of the children Britain, and that it was not only unfair but a disgraceful thing for a modern nation, the fifth richest in the world, to be talking of reducing the nations teachers to a life of poverty in their old age. They asserted that all workers deserved to be treated with dignity in their old age.

Newcastle Newcastle
Newcastle Monument Rally Newcastle
Newcastle: March and Rally at the Monument.

In Newcastle, there was one of the largest marches and rallies that has been seen in the "toon". Several thousand took part. There were also rallies in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Carlisle, as well as other towns and cities such as Bristol. A number of unions in the public sector, such as Unison in the NHS, were not on strike as their members are yet to be balloted, but many people went to support the picket lines. The rally in Newcastle, for example, emphasised the fight for the alternative and the dignity of labour. Other actions took place, such as at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead where over 70 health workers from every department took part in the lunchtime protest.

Leeds Leeds
Leeds: March and Rally.

This strike and the actions of many other workers on June 30 demonstrate the unity and determination of working people right across the country, despite the attempts of the government and the monopoly-controlled media to emphasise so-called divisions in the trade union movement and denigrate the workers. The fight is on for an alternative direction for the economy so that it serves the interests of the working class and the interests of the whole of society.

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