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Hundreds Of Thousands Join Pension Strikes

Hundreds Of Thousands Join Pension Strikes

1:05am 30th June 2011
(Updated 10:06am 1st July 2011)

Thousands of schools were closed as huge numbers of public sector workers went on strike over Government reforms to their pensions.

There were warnings of fresh industrial action to come after hundreds of thousands walked out in protest, disrupting courts, driving centres and jobcentres.

A row developed between unions and Downing Street over the impact of the strike after the Government said it had "minimal" effect.

As many as 600,000 joined the industrial action, and unions said as many as 20,000 marched in London. Thousands more protested in other cities.

They are against planned reforms which unions say would mean more work and higher contributions for a lower pension.

The Government has questioned the numbers taking part, but one of the four unions involved - the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) - said the strike was the best-supported ever.

The Cabinet Office said figures gathered from every Government department showed more than 75% of civil servants were not on strike.

It added fewer than 100,000 civil service workers were on strike - around a fifth of the total workforce.

But the PCS union, which includes police support and border staff, claimed its numbers suggested 84% of its members have gone on strike.

The Metropolitan police said nine out of ten of the force's 999 callers failed to turn up for work, with officers drafted in from other duties to make up the numbers.

Schools bore the brunt of the 24-hour walkout as members of three teaching unions staged walkouts.

The Department for Education said more than 11,000 out of 21,500 state schools in England were affected.

In total there were 5,679 schools closed, with nearly 5,000 partially closed. In Wales more than half the 1,800 schools were closed or partially shut.

The National Union of Teachers says 80% of schools in England and Wales have been affected.

Marches have been largely good-natured, although Sky News witnessed police remove about 10 youths dressed in black hoodies from a rally in central London.

Police in the capital said 30 people had been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, breach of the peace and drugs offences.

One police officer and six members of the public were injured. Four arrests in Brighton were linked to a protest there.

The Government has criticised the strikes, with Prime Minister David Cameron describing the action as "wrong".

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said people needed to wake up to the stark economic realities.

"Those who say pensions are affordable should also say which hospitals to shut down to subsidise their pensions," he said.

"People are living longer, so should work longer."

But general secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, said the Government was not playing fair with the cuts.

"I'm a firm believer of negotiations and as I've said, I hope we're going to be able to resolve this through negotiations - without the need for further industrial action," he told Sky News.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Government was "not seeking to be at loggerheads with the unions".

"I think it's a real shame there are strikes because there are talks ongoing between the Government and the trade unions," he said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband also criticised the mass walkout, saying it was "wrong" - but again accused the Government of "reckless" behaviour.

One protester at a rally in London branded him a "disgrace" for not supporting the action, prompting loud cheers from the audience.

Teacher Angela White told Sky News that while she understands cuts are needed, they should be less severe.

"We're not saying we don't want to take a hit - we understand people are being squeezed," she said.

"What we are saying is, please negotiate and not do all these things at once to us."

Up to 6,000 people joined the pensions protest in Newcastle, a union leader said, and around 1,500 gathered in the centre of Sheffield. A major protest has also taken place in Manchester.

The UK Border Agency warned passengers travelling into Britain would face delays at ports and airports as passport officers join the strike.

Heathrow Airport and the PCS said 70% of border staff at the airport were striking.

Downing Street said there had been "minimal impact" on the public.

"Our border controls are in place and JobCentres and pension offices are open for business," said a spokeswoman.

Special needs teacher Mark Baker, from Rochdale, said a pension of £18,500 that he had expected to receive when he retired at 60 would be cut to £13,500 under Government proposals.

Mr Baker, a regional official for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, insisted the organisation was moderate but added: "There must be something serious if a union that doesn't strike is taking strike action."

The British Chambers of Commerce said the stoppage would result in tens of thousands of parents having to take a day off work to look after their children.

:: Unions insists public sector workers are facing an unprecedented attack on pensions

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