Services grind to a halt as staff strike

Reporter:

David Humphreys

THOUSANDS of striking public sector workers downed tools yesterday in protest over pay and pensions – bringing schools and services to a standstill.

The strikes in the region formed part of a day of action across the UK, with more than one million people taking part in the walkout.

Teachers, home helps, lollipop attendants, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, park attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners were among those striking alongside firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.

Unions taking industrial action were the National Union of Teachers, Unison, GMB, Unite, the Fire Brigades Union and the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).

Parents faced making last minute childcare arrangements as dozens of schools closed yesterday.

In Wrexham there were picket lines, a march through the streets and a rally at Queens Square.

Gary Simpson, Unite’s seconded representative for the town, said: “The fact no service provisions have taken place throughout the local authority today shows this strike has been a major victory for our members.

“We must stress we are not at odds with the local council. It is central government that this action is aimed at.”

The government said the “vast majority” of public sector workers had not voted for the strikes and called the action “irresponsible”.

But striking union members in Wrexham descended on Wrexham’s Queens Square for the march through the town, followed by a rally in Queens Square.

Margaret Thomas, UNISON regional secretary for Wales, said the wage increases sought by unions would be “almost self-financing”.

She said: “We are not asking for the 14 per cent rise bankers are getting. We are not asking for the 11 per cent rise MPs are getting. We are asking for the living wage, just £1 more per hour. This pay-award would be almost self-financing, bringing in about £1 billion per year in additional tax and national insurance contributions.”

Steve Ryan, of the PCS, said: “We will see the government saying we have disrupted vital services. Well, we have and they are vital services so it is time they paid for them.

“There is £120 billion in uncollected tax through avoidance and evasion which would pay for the so-called deficit.”

Cllr Arfon Jones, Wrexham Council representative on the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority board, said: “Most people think of themselves and the disruption it causes them but you have to see the bigger picture.

“To expect people to fight fires into their 60s is too much.”

In Flintshire, picket lines were in place in Alltami and Mold.

Sarah Taylor, branch secretary of Flintshire UNISON, stood in the picket line outside County Hall.

She said, if the climate of austerity continued to hit services, the public would find itself without crucial services.

“There’ll be nothing left,” she said. “We’ve seen it already with library closures, or day centre closures. If people don’t support their public services, they will, before long, find out they are not here when they need them.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said yesterday: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers did not vote for today’s action and early indications are most are turning up for work as usual.

“In the civil service we estimate fewer than 90,000 members of the PCS union will not be working – this is lower than previous strike action, and just a fifth of the civil service workforce. It is disappointing that, once again, some union leaders have pushed for strike action that will achieve nothing and benefit no one.

“Union leaders have relied on mandates for action that lack authority – the National Union of Teachers ballot was run nearly two years ago, while other ballots had extremely low turnouts.”

See full story in the Leader

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