LONDON – Hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers the length and breadth of Britain defied slurs and threats Thursday to mount one of the biggest walkouts since the country’s 1926 General Strike.
Defiant chants of resistance could be heard across the country as the June 30 strike – officially over pensions cuts – took hold.
Education professionals in the University and College Union (UCU), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and National Union of Teachers (NUT) taught students a vital lesson in trade unionism by withdrawing their labor from 11,000 schools and thousands more colleges.
And public offices including courts and job centers were shut or picketed as members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) joined the day of action.
Thousands of people furious at having their retirement rights, jobs and services sacrificed following the banking crisis marched in towns and cities.
Tory ministers tried in vain to belittle the massive scale of the protests, aided and abetted by mainstream media outlets.
The images told a different story, backing up unions which reported a response approaching 100 percent from members and huge support from fellow members of the public.
In London, well over 20,000 striking public-sector workers marched against their pensions being used to pay for the “greed and stupidy of the banking sector.”
Marchers walked from Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn to Westminster to cheers and whistles before attending a rally held at Central Methodist Hall where speeches were delivered to sustained applause and standing ovations.
NUT executive member and rally chairman Alex Kenny said: “We have shown the true meaning of the word solidarity and unity in strength and numbers when unions come and strike together.
“We won’t sit by paying more, working longer and getting less for our pensions when the bankers are being let off the hook.”
It was the first time teaching union ATL has been involved in national strike action in its 127-year history. The union’s general secretary Mary Bousted said: “They thought we wouldn’t do it. They thought we would lie down and let them walk all over us. They thought that we wouldn’t put up a fight.
“They were wrong.
“I am proud to be here with you all. I am proud to be taking a stand to ensure that teachers and lecturers, after a lifetime of service educating the nation’s children, are not condemned to pension poverty.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka praised members working at Downing Street (the equivalent of the U.S. White House) who joined the protest and the “dignity, passion and bravery” of all those on strike.
“We know there is something wrong when you have workers at Downing Street on strike,” he said to a standing ovation.
“When Lord Hutton tells people on £15,000 ($24,000) a year to tighten their belts I say he can shove it.”
PCS London branch rep Charley McDonald, who works for the Department of Work and Pensions, said: “They are asking us to treble our contributions so that we are having to spend an extra £50 to £70 ($80 to $112) a month from our wages.
“The £2.8 billion ($4.5 billion) the government is making from this is not going to our pensions but to the Treasury.
“Bankers are getting one-off bonuses that I would have to work 100 years to earn.
“Managers are even joining us on this strike – something is seriously wrong and we must be heard.”
Originally published at Morning Star Online.
Photo: British teachers and public service workers clogged the streets of London, Thursday, July 30, as hundreds of thousands walked off the job around the country to protest pension cuts. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)