Unions hail public sector strike

 

Unions hailed a strike by up to two million public sector workers as "historic" tonight as they angrily rejected claims by the Prime Minister that the biggest walkout in a generation had been a "damp squib".

Follow live coverage of the strike here

David Cameron told the Commons that the "irresponsible and damaging" industrial action had been far from universally supported as he defended the Government's controversial pension reforms.

Officials from 30 unions involved in today's strike reported huge support, with up to 90% of some organisations taking action, often for the first time in their lives.

The strike closed more than three quarters of schools in England, as well as courts, museums, libraries and jobcentres, disrupted transport, hospitals and Government departments, led to around 15% of driving tests being cancelled, and was described by unions as the biggest since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.

Physiotherapists, headteachers, librarians, lollipop ladies, refuse collectors, weather forecasters and scientists were among those involved in the stoppage.

Civil service union Prospect said action by 26,000 of its members alone disrupted or stopped work at more than 400 locations, ranging from Ministry of Defence sites to prisons.

More than 1,000 rallies were held across the UK, including one in central London attended by tens of thousands of workers, some accompanied by their children.

Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, said the rally showed the depth of anger among public sector workers, adding: "The Prime Minister is completely out of touch. I have been to 12 picket lines and there has been a fantastic response both from workers and the general public.

"The Government can try to spin and tell lies, but they have been found out."

University and College Union leader Sally Hunt said: "Cheap potshots add nothing to what should be a serious debate about millions of people's futures, and just expose how out of touch the Prime Minister really is."

Warnings of massive delays at Heathrow airport failed to materialise, with passengers saying border controls were "better than usual".

Union officials accused the Government of "ramping up" possible airport disruption and claimed that "under-trained" staff had been drafted in to cover striking immigration and passport workers.

Debbie Arnell, a 42-year-old apprenticeship assessor from Bournemouth who had flown back to Heathrow's terminal five after a holiday in Philadelphia, said there appeared to be "more staff than usual" at passport control.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of airport operator BAA, said: "Due to the effective contingency plans we put in place with airlines and the UK Border Agency, immigration queues are currently running at normal levels for Heathrow.

"As a result of the whole airport community working together over the past few days we have more immigration officers on duty and fewer passengers arriving than would otherwise be the case. That has put us in a better place to avoid the serious delays and widespread disruption at Heathrow that were projected last week."

The Public and Commercial Services union reported a "huge" turnout for the strike, with up to 90% of staff in some Government departments, including Revenue and Customs, taking action.

Unison leader Dave Prentis said: "I wouldn't call two million people taking strike action a damp squib. Cameron is sounding increasingly desperate in his attacks on public service workers.

"He has only to turn on the TV, or listen to the radio - or look out the window - to see the nurses, dinner ladies, paramedics, social workers, teaching assistants, lollipop ladies amongst others standing up for their pensions. And the thousands of picket lines, demonstrations, rallies and events are not a figment of our imagination. These people are angry public servants who the Government has driven to the end of their tether."

A "handful" of staff from 10 Downing Street went on strike, and the school attended by Mr Cameron's son Elwen, was closed.

The Department of Health told NHS trusts in England they must not release figures regarding staff on strike or the number of cancelled operations and appointments, it was revealed.

A letter said a "national position" statement must be sent to the media ahead of any regional breakdowns.

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, said: "It is outrageous that the Department of Health are desperately trying to hide the fact that NHS services are being disrupted across the UK. Our members are reporting fantastic support for the day of action.

"We appreciate that this will cause difficulty for patients but we have made sure that patient safety will not be compromised."

Mr McCluskey said it was a "diabolical" attempt to "distort the truth".

The London Ambulance Service revealed that 42% of its staff were on strike, saying it was under "increased pressure" after receiving 30% more 999 calls than normal.

In Salford, Greater Manchester, council binmen manned a picket line outside their depot. Standing around a burning brazier to keep warm, they held placards including one asking: "Do we look Gold Plated?"

Primary schoolteacher Teresa Hughes, 48, of Newport, South Wales, who joined a rally in Swansea, said: "I am the main earner in my family and teachers like me are having to work more but for less.

"I don't think anyone wanted to go on strike, and we don't take a decision like this lightly. But ask anyone here today and they will tell you they feel like they have been left little choice but to take part in industrial action. The fact that the Government has reneged on its pension deal does not give us much faith."

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the strike was "inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible", adding: "Responsibility for any disruption which people may experience today lies squarely with union leaders.

"Claims that there are no negotiations going on are simply not true. There were formal discussions with the civil service unions only yesterday and there will be formal discussions with the teaching unions tomorrow and health on Friday.

"In addition, there are frequent informal contacts between the Government and the TUC. All of this underlines how indefensible today's strike is while these talks at scheme level are moving forward."

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said 90% of its 23,000 NHS members were estimated to be on strike, for only the second time in the union's 117-year history.

Alex MacKenzie, of the CSP, said: "Physiotherapy staff have demonstrated their anger over these pensions proposals by turning out in huge numbers today. No-one wanted to strike, but our members felt we had to take a stand."

Follow live coverage of the strike here

PA

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Day In a Page

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference