Posted on Wed 30th November 2011 by admin2

Strike shuts Tyne and Wear Metro and closes schools

Council workers, teachers and hospital workers were among those taking part in the protest

Commuters who use the Tyne and Wear Metro suffered disruption as strike action by public sector workers closed the system.

Hundreds of schools across County Durham, Tyneside and Northumberland were also shut.

Thousands of NHS workers and council staff joined teachers in Wednesday’s walkout in a row over pensions.

The government said it needed to make changes to pensions because people are living longer.

Picket lines were set up from the early hours, including at Metro stations, hospitals and council buildings.

A rainbow of colour, the Newcastle strikers wore official union-coloured bibs, flew flags, tooted whistles and blew horns in an upbeat march.

It was a cold starts as they gathered at Gateshead Civic Centre at 10:30 GMT before setting off an hour later. The 2,000-strong crowd were in high spirits, with a brass band playing Christmas songs.

Workers walked with family members, friends and supporters, who chanted “banks got bailed out, we got sold out”, and told me “if we don’t support this strike, our pensions are next”.

They snaked through Gateshead, across the swing bridge and ended up at Spillers Wharf, growing in numbers throughout and ending with approximately 8,500, according to police.

In County Durham, 235 out of the 262 schools were closed. In Northumberland, 129 of 149 were shut, in Gateshead 71 of the 83 schools were closed, in North Tyneside 66 out of 79 and in South Tyneside 64 out of 66 were closed.

In Newcastle, 106 out of 139 education establishments, including schools, nurseries, Sure Start and play centres, were closed.

Northumbria Police said about 8,500 workers joined a march which set off from Gateshead Civic Centre to a rally at the Newcastle Quayside.

Assistant chief constable Steve Ashman said: “The march was well attended and passed without any problems.

“Northumbria Police fully supports the right to peaceful protest and I have nothing but praise for the behaviour of those who took part.”

‘Pension burglary’

Lin James, who works at Newcastle University, said that although she was not balloted, she opted not to cross the picket line and would lose a day’s pay.

“I’m tired of being frightened about the future and it’s a way of taking back power and control and spending time with other people taking action to protect all of us,” she said.

“For 20 years I worked for Islington Council and I will be depending on the pension I have accrued there when I retire.”

One of the people striking, Pauline Wood, head teacher at Grange Park Primary School in Sunderland, travelled to London to meet the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

RMT picket in South Gosforth, NewcastleAction by workers from the Tyne and Wear Metro brought the service to a halt

She said: “The money that we were promised was in our pension pot and was sufficient to be sustainable.

“How come that is now eroded and we feel like we’ve been burgled?”

Mr Alexander said: “People should have no fear at all that anything that they’ve built up until now is in any way affected by this.

“The reason why we believe that change is necessary is because of a fact of life that’s going on for everybody in the country, whether they’re in the public sector or the private sector, which is that we’re all living longer, our life expectancies are greater.

“In those circumstances we have to make sure that… every taxpayer can continue to afford the cost of pensions.

“And that means we need to move the balance between how much time people spend in work and how much they spend in retirement.”

The Shields Ferry was closed, but the Tyne Tunnels remained open during the strikes.

Bus company Go North East said its buses Tyne and Wear were “packed with passengers who would normally travel on the Metro”.

It put on 40 extra buses and brought in 90 more staff.


Strike action closes more than 200 schools in Cumbria

Council workers, teachers and hospital staff joined the stoppage.

More than 200 schools closed in Cumbria as public sector workers walked out in a row over pensions.

Picket lines were set up with rallies taking place in Whitehaven, Carlisle and Barrow.

Unions said the government’s pension plans were unfair and would see members working longer and contributing more before collecting their pension.

The government said it needed to make changes to pensions because people were living longer.

In Cumbria, teachers, nurses, care workers and civil servants were among those involved in Wednesday’s action.

Picket lines were set up from the early hours, including at council buildings and hospitals.

‘Unfair and unrealistic’

As the town hall clock in Carlisle city centre chimed noon about 500 people of all ages gathered to show their support for the protest against cuts to public sector pensions.

Colourful flags fluttered over the heads of the crowd as organisers welcomed everyone and the first speeches began.

Fifteen minutes later, to the sounds of hooters and whistles, the crowd set off down Scotch Street to parade around the city.

Now about 1,000 strong, and with a police escort, the snake of people walked towards the Civic Centre, the headquarters of Carlisle City Council before entering Lowther Street.

Here, traffic on the normally busy road was brought to a standstill. Many drivers honked their horns and applauded as the peaceful procession walked past.

Led by a big orange banner with the words ‘Pensions Justice’ written on it, the good spirited and very noisy parade returned towards the city centre via English Street.

With the sky threatening rain the organisers rounded up the event with a minute of noise and passionate speeches.

Cumbria County Council said 220 schools in the county were closed with 67 fully open.

Twelve of the council’s disability and mental health day services were closed and at least 20 libraries were shut.

Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, in a speech to the think tank Policy Exchange, said public sector unions wanted “to provide a platform for confrontation just when we all need to pull together”.

He said it was “unfair and unrealistic” to expect taxpayers to foot the increasing public sector pensions bill.

Some disruption

Rallies, marches and picket lines were held across the county.

In Carlisle about 1,000 people marched through the streets of the city waving banners and hooting horns.

Outside Kendal police station, Clive Davidson, a civilian administration manager, was striking for the first time in 40 years. He said: “A lot of us are facing redundancies and our pensions are going to be affected. People are going to have to work until they are 67.”

Ray Simpson, 56, Cumbria branch secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “I think this is the one issue in all my years of teaching, 32 years, that seems to have united the membership as a whole.”

Jim Savege, Cumbria County Council’s corporate director for organisational development, said: “There has clearly been some disruption for the public today, particularly because of the relatively high proportion of school closures and the knock-on impacts that can have for childcare.

“But we have all worked hard and planned ahead to manage the impact of the strikes on the public.”


Teesside strikes: Hundreds join Middlesbrough march

Cancer patient Margaret Toase declined treatment to join a picket line in Middlesbrough

Hundreds of people marched through Middlesbrough in support of striking public sector workers.

Police estimated that around 700, including council staff and teachers, took part Wednesday’s protest over changes to pensions.

Among the strikers was cancer patient Margaret Toase, who declined treatment for a brain tumour in favour of joining colleagues on a hospital picket line.

The government wants to change pensions because people are living longer.

Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge was closed, as were many libraries and leisure centres.

Mrs Toase, a nurse and union activist since 1965, joined the picket line outside Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital, where she was due to receive treatment for a brain tumour.

She said: “There is no way I am going in there today to receive any treatment when it means crossing a picket line.

“I wouldn’t cross any picket for any reason.”

In County Durham, 235 of 262 schools were closed, in Darlington 32 of the town’s 39 schools and nurseries were closed. In Hartlepool all 37 schools were closed and in Middlesbrough 47 out of 50 were shut.

Middlesbrough Council said services which had an agreed exemption to the strike included cemeteries and crematorium and some staff who work with vulnerable adults and children.

‘Business as usual’

Cleveland Police said it drafted in extra staff and cancelled the leave of about 100 officers.

Assistant Chief Constable Sean White said: “While some staff members employed by Cleveland Police, or partners delivering a service to the force who belong to a union, have taken industrial action, our focus has been on business as usual.”

Tom Brennan, GMB Regional Secretary, said: “It is about time that the government started to appreciate and praise public sector workers rather than attacking them, vilifying them and kicking them around.”

However, in a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said it was “unfair and unrealistic” to expect taxpayers to foot the increasing public sector pensions bill.


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