Public sector workers called for more industrial action this summer after gathering on Preston’s Flag Market to rally against planned pension changes.
Union bosses said up to 60,000 workers across the North West and 400,000 in the UK took part in strikes, causing disruption to court hearings, lectures, hospital operations, driving tests and borders.
Picket lines were formed outside Preston’s crown and magistrates’ courts, the DWP’s Palatine House building in Lancaster Road, HMRC’s Charles House headquarters in Winckley Square, the Central Government offices at Red Rose House in Lancaster Road and the CPS offices within the Unicentre in Lords Walk.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, University and Colleges Union (UCU) and Unite have all voted to reject a final Government offer, which they said would cause staff to work longer and pay more for a pension that would be worth less to them in retirement.
Independent Coun Michael Lavalette, who is also a lecturer and UCU member, visited picket lines around the city yesterday, where he said he saw more than a hundred workers taking part.
He said: “I think people are very resolute and I think when the government imposed on March 1 the pension deductions it made people very angry.
“I lost £30 a month from my salary and, at the same time, I’m now going to work until 67 not 65, and get less money than I would have before.
“Teachers pensions are in profit to £45bn and the local government pension is the same, these are pensions that can pay everyone. But what the government wants to do is increase pension payments to pay off the general bankers’ debt.”
He said there was also anger over some union leaders entering into talks with the government after widespread industrial action at the end of November.
And union members who went on to a meeting at the Stanley Arms pub in Lancaster Road yesterday afternoon called for more coordinated efforts over the coming months.
Andy Birchall, a Unite representative who chaired the meeting, said: “We are calling for a strategic approach to industrial action continuing this summer and into autumn.”
Nick Stubbs, a Unite representative who works at the Royal Preston Hospital, said members had worked to ensure that patients attending the hospital were not affected by the action.
He said: “Our disagreement is not with the people going to hospital, it’s against the government. We have a duty of care to provide a service.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg for us, I am administrating weekly meetings with staff facing privatisations, restructuring, redundancies, rebanding and a drop in their wages.
“We had at least half of the workforce out, portering and maintenance staff, so 30 to 40 workers.
“We’ve had a lot of support from the public, people beeping car horns, shouting out of windows, shaking our hands and saying ‘keep up the good work’.”
However, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude described the strike as “futile” and insisted that talks over pensions would not be reopened.
She said: “It is very disappointing that a handful of unions insist on carrying on with futile strike action which will benefit no-one.
“We would urge these union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and nothing further will be achieved through strike action.”