“We are fighting for our livelihoods but united we can defeat these robbers.”
That was the message from around 400 public sector workers and teachers who descended on Preston’s Flag Market in a show of force against Government pension reforms yesterday.
The rally was one of a number of co-ordinated events across Lancashire to coincide with national strike action over changes that will see pension contributions increased and working life extended.
Simon Jones, national executive member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), accused the government of “bullying” employees and likened the reforms to theft.
He said: “Teachers are used to dealing with bullies and we teach our pupils never to give in to them.
“We are not going to give in.
“United we can defeat this Government - it has no mandate for what it is proposing to do.
“Today’s action can be a catalyst for deepening and widening action.”
Members of the NUT, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), University and College Union (UCU) and the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) turned out in force at the rally, which started at noon.
Dr Will Kaufman, a reader in English and American studies at UCLan, kicked off the rally by singing a protest songs including “Pay Me My Money Down” and “Jesus Christ”, a Woody Guthrie song that blames greedy bankers and governments for the crucifixion of Christ.
Kathy Eager, national executive member of ATL union, told the crowd to “stand up” to the reforms.
After her speech, she said: “This is the first time in our history that we have taken part in any kind of national strike, which says a lot.
“It is absolutely appalling what is being done and I am delighted so many people have turned out to show their support.
“The fact of the matter is workers and teachers are being asked to pay more, work longer and get less. It is ridiculous.
“If these reforms go through teachers will be working until they are 68. Who wants a 68-year-old teaching children of five and six?”
She added: “The top on bottom of it is that this will destroy the education system in this country.
“We will no longer be able to attract the best people into teaching because of the pay and conditions and then everyone will suffer.”
John Murphy, from the UCU union, used his speech to attack the “old Etonian brigade” in the cabinet.
He said: “We need to imitate our brothers and sisters in Greece in saying ‘no’.
“Our message is simple: all workers, in the public and private sectors, deserve a decent retirement.”
He added: “Let’s defend our pensions, let’s defend out retirement.”
Event organiser and host Lynne Wallace, who is branch secretary of North West and Central Lancashire PCS, said: “We are fighting for fair pensions for all, not just in the public sector.
“The public has come out to support us and we thank them for that support. We don’t take strike action lightly and we know the disruption that it can cause but we feel like we have been left without a choice.
“Our livelihoods are under threat. The Government has made it clear they will not engage with us.”