On the frontline with Manchester’s striking public sector workers

By Marya Yasin

Around 30,000 passionate public sector workers took to the streets of Manchester in mass protest to protect their pensions against ‘unjust’ government cuts, yesterday.

The national Trade Union Council (TUC) Day of Action was said to be the biggest national strike since 1926.

Protests were also held in London, Scotland, Cardiff, Bradford, Leeds and Salford and a total of 30 unions took part.

The demonstration saw the closure of all schools across Greater Manchester.

The Manchester march began at 11.30am on Liverpool Road and then proceeded to John Dalton Road, Oxford Street, Oxford Road and finally culminated with a rally at Whitworth Park.

Demonstrators braved the cold, holding banners criticising Prime Minister David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s policies and decisions.

Greater Manchester Police walked in front of the protestors, with twelve officers on horseback.

As protestors walked through John Dalton Road, they booed at private sector workers in who were working in offices.

Despite the ever decreasing temperature, spirits were kept up courtesy of a mobile DJ, who armed with speakers and an i-Pod on a bicycle, churned out motivational tunes such as Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up.’

A box of chocolates was handed around to keep energy levels up and demonstrators received support from applauding bystanders along their route.

Although a retired teacher, Paul Gerrard, was among the one of the thousands of protestors in Manchester. He said: “My son-in-law is a teacher, he is in his third year of the profession but he is already on the worse deal than I was and if the Tory proposal goes through it’ll get much, much, much worse.”

On Tuesday, it was announced that the retirement age will be increased to 67.

Mr Gerrard expressed his concern for his son-in-law. He said: “I don’t think he will have the energy to do the job. He gives a fantastic amount of energy to the job now- he isn’t going to have that at 67.”

Teaching Assistant, Christina Appleyard, did not take part in the demonstration as her pension is protected. Her daughter, however, has been a teacher for a year and participated in the London protest.

She said: “Mine is protected now but that doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be supporting the people who are coming out here. And it’s not only me, it’s not schools. It’s across the board, you know. It’s all public sector workers and it’s totally unfair.”

Another demonstrator, John Humphries was hopeful that yesterday’s demonstration would have an impact on government policies.

“We actually have public support,” he said.

The demonstration did not receive the full support of bystanders. MM overhead, a man on his lunch break saying of the demonstration: “It’s a f*****g joke mate. Public cuts affect everyone. I’m doing my bit.”

As demonstrators made their way into Whitworth Park, a builder shouted: “Get back to work.”

Naila Ashraf was made redundant two months ago due to government cuts. Of the national demonstration, she said: “I hope it makes the government sit up and understand just how angry people are at them because they don’t have a mandate to bring these cuts in.”

“It’s funny because we know the government has money, they give it to the bankers and they do support the wars and stuff, so why don’t they use it on the welfare state?”

In regards to increasing the pension, she said: “Look people don’t want to work until they drop dead. If you’re a fireman or you’re a bin collector-these are hard jobs. The idea that you’re going to keep working, surely as the fourth richest country in the world; we should treat our elderly people better.”

She added: “Most people understand that if you work all your life and you pay for your taxes and all the rest of it, you should be expected to have a good pension. The fact that we’re not going to do that is quite disgusting.”

The rally saw Rena Wood from Manchester UNISON giving a passionate speech. She said: “I’m proud of the fact that the majority of our members are women. I’m proud of the fact that we have achieved something historical today.”

Paula Roe senior Vice President of NASUWT, the teacher’s union, also took to the stage in Whitworth Park. She had a message for the British Prime Minister.

“Cameron, there are millions of us taking action across the United Kingdom today. Now, you say ‘it is wrong to take action’. Now you say ‘urge public sector workers to put the people of Britain first and work normally’. Mr Cameron, we are the people of Britain,” she said.

Millions of people in the country took part in the demonstration, however there are plans from unions to organise another protest march in the New Year.

“This won’t actually be the end of it, I don’t think,” Ms Ashraf said. “I think this is the start of more action.”

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