Hundreds of prison officers walked out of work yesterday as part of wildcat strike action in protest at the Government's pension reform plans.
Prisoners were placed in lockdown as officers joined tens of thousands of other public sector employees including police, lecturers, court staff and other civil servants. In London, on-duty police officers were placed in the odd position of policing 20,000 of their off-duty colleagues.
Police officers from every force in England and Wales donned black baseball caps with the words "Cuts are criminal", in a protest that brought parts of the capital to a standstill.
Union leaders said more than 400,000 workers across the country took some form of industrial action as part of the protests, which they said would continue for the rest of the year.
However the Government disputed the figures, claiming that only 100,000 civil servants had taken part in the "futile" strike. The row was fuelled by confirmation in yesterday's Queen's Speech that the Government is to press ahead with its controversial reforms to pensions.
At a rally in Westminster the Government was accused of lying about the effect of the changes, while union leaders pledged to continue organising more strikes as soon as next month.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite union, said: "Today has been a fantastic success and there will be more strikes in June, at the end of the summer, the winter, next spring and on and on and on."
Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services union, added government claims that some people would be better off after the reforms were a lie.
Prison officers started their unannounced protest meetings at 7am against government plans to link their normal pension age to the state pension age. It is only the second time they have gone on strike. The Prison Officers Association (POA) said more than 80 per cent of its members took part in the meetings outside jails.
The Government said that the walkout was unlawful and threatened the union with legal action unless the prison officers returned to work.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said that the number of strikers was markedly down on November's nationwide walkout and insisted the Government would make no changes to its policy. "It is now time that union leaders put the best interests of their members first by asking them to accept our generous offer," he said.