Festival feel for Trade Union’s strike masks undercurrent of anger

By Joseph Fitzpatrick and Charlotte Dobson

They marched in their thousands, blowing whistles and holding placards in the hope that the Government would take notice.

Cars beeped their horns and at least one cyclist tinkled his bell in support while the seemingly mandatory megaphone blasted out statements of resistance.

Yet despite the political defiance on show at the Manchester branch of the Trade Unions’ day of action there was almost a festival feel, a sense of real joy at the resistance being shared by the teachers, nurses, physios, police staff and councillors – that was until George Osborne’s name was mentioned.

“He’s talking out of his arse, and he’s got to take notice of the unions now after today’s march,” said one Unison official, who branded the Chancellor’s plans to freeze public sector pay rises at one per cent over the next two years as ‘a load of crap.’

The Union leaders proclaimed that 30,000 public sector workers had descended on Whitworth Park, but in truth it was probably half that total, and still there were no arrests. Unlike other protests the police were not viewed as the protectors of the enemy, and it is likely many of the constabulary would have joined in the picket lines had they been allowed – their pensions are also being threatened.

Twenty-three unions participated in the protest against the Government’s pensions reforms, which would see public sector workers pay an added 3.2 per cent into their scheme per annum, work until 67 and alter the amount they received in their final pension – reforms surmised by the unions as; work longer, pay more, get less.

If the unions were a caged animal before the march, then Osborne certainly reached through the bars and poked them with yesterday’s Autumn Statement, in which he announced to freeze public sector pay raises at one per cent until 2013 and cut 300,000 more jobs.

“I’m extremely angry at Osborne’s Autumn Statement,” said Donna Rankin, a teacher at Mersey High School, Whitefield. “We’ve had a long time on poorer wages under the last Government we got fairly reasonable wages and now its all gone as prices increase and it’s getting harder to look after a family.”

Asked what she would say to George Osborne if given the chance, Ms Rankin, a member of the National Union of Teachers, said: “I think I’d be very angry and I’d find it very hard to keep my cool, and I’d tell him just stop screwing normal people.”

A fellow NUT member, Kirsty Robb, echoed this sentiment, she said: “I think George Osborne needs to seriously think about what he’s doing and look at what the people are saying and start listening to us.

“We have kept the same amount of money and they’re [the bankers] are still getting bonus’ to put us into further recession.

Dan, a microbiologist, holding a placard that read ‘I’m ginger I deserve a fair pension’, took particular umbrage with the ‘work longer’ section of the proposed reforms.

He believes that highly skilled workers may be forced to retire early if the Government increased the pension age: “I’d like to think I’m a highly skilled professional worker and the fact that they’re pushing the pension age back is a bit unreasonable,” he said. “At the age of 70, 67, 65, I don’t think a lot of people can operate at the type of capacity that’s maybe required.

“I’m at that stage of my career now that although my pension is a long way off, it’s going to affect me quite a lot.

“It’s going to be unreasonable financially, we’ve had a pay freeze for the last few years and the statement yesterday means we’re going to get a pay rise of just one per cent, so essentially our money is going to be worth less than we first started – but any rise is better than nothing.

“We’re trying to send a message to the government that we can’t bail out the private sector.

“The private sector is struggling and they’re struggling to make profit and they’re not going to be able to pay their taxes and fund the Government to get the country out of recession, but that doesn’t mean you should take money out of the public sector – I think it’s just a bit unfair personally.”

There might have been a festival atmosphere at the rally but those in attendance held real disdain for the Conservative Government, and the union’s anger was perhaps captured best by a bearded gentleman who, while holding a placard that read, ‘Tory Scum’, exclaimed: ”Them b******* in Westminster aren’t losing their pensions.”


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