Unions warn of more action after thousands rally in city

Striking public sector workers and their supporters march down the Canongate to a rally outside the Scottish Parliament.

Striking public sector workers and their supporters march down the Canongate to a rally outside the Scottish Parliament.

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THE UK Government today faced the prospect of more industrial action over pensions after a big turn-out for yesterday’s 24-hour strike by public sector workers.

An estimated 10,000 people marched down the Royal Mile to a rally outside the Scottish Parliament as council workers, teachers, NHS staff and civil servants united in protest at the prospect of working longer and paying more towards worse pensions. The city council estimated more than 12,500 staff took part in yesterday’s action – 68 per cent of the workforce.

All schools were closed to pupils, along with all nurseries and family centres, all community centres and all council-run museums and galleries.

Union leaders said if there was no movement from the government, further action would have to be considered. Future strikes could more selective and targeted or there could be another mass walk-out.

One parliament worker on the picket line at Holyrood said: “I hate being on strike, but the government seems hellbent on not entering into meaningful negotiations.

“And we have been getting attacked with some terrible lies.

“Some of our members have salaries under £15,000. Even if they do 40 years’ service, there is nothing gold-plated about what they are going to get.”

Unison’s Scottish council meets on Saturday to discuss the next steps. Regional organiser Peter Hunter said: “The very strong message from speakers at the rally – which was warmly received by the crowd – was that this is just the beginning.

“There is a confidence and a spring in the step of activists as a result of yesterday’s action. What we have witnessed is a clear sense of unity and massive public support.”

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith told the rally it was the biggest mobilisation of workers since the 1920s.

He said: “No-one should be in any doubt about our determination to stand together to resist this outrageous attack on pensions and living standards.”

Banners on display included ones from the EIS teachers’ union from Holy Rood RC High School, Drummond Community High, Queensferry High and Currie High.

Speaking at the rally, former Unison general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe dismissed the idea that public sector workers should accept poorer pensions because many in the private sector had already seen theirs reduced. He said: “It’s like saying that half the population have had their legs cut off so it’s only fair the other half should have their legs cut off.”

Alan Munro, president of the EIS, told the rally that public sector workers faced a “triple whammy” over pensions – “paying a lot more, working a lot longer and getting a lot less”. But he said at no time had the government produced proof that their pensions were unsustainable.

Dave Anderson of the University and College Union said public sector workers had shown their anger over pensions by striking on St Andrew’s Day. And he said the message to the government was: “If necessary we will take action on St David’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and St George’s Day until you fix this.”