Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Unions hail public sector strike

Nadera Bird and Charlotte Caley picket outside the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield

Unions have hailed a strike by up to two million public-sector workers as "historic" as they angrily rejected claims by the Prime Minister that the biggest walk-out in a generation had been a "damp squib".

David Cameron told the Commons that the "irresponsible and damaging" industrial action had been far from universally supported as he defended the Government's controversial pension reforms.

Officials from 30 unions involved in the strike reported huge support, with up to 90% of some organisations taking action, often for the first time in their lives.

The strike closed more than three-quarters of schools in England, as well as courts, museums, libraries and jobcentres, disrupted transport, hospitals and government departments, led to around 15% of driving tests being cancelled and was described by unions as the biggest since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.

Civil service union Prospect said action by 26,000 of its members alone disrupted or stopped work at more than 400 locations, ranging from Ministry of Defence sites to prisons while more than 1,000 rallies were held across the UK, including one in central London attended by tens of thousands of workers, some accompanied by their children.

Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, said the rally showed the depth of anger among public-sector workers, adding: "The Prime Minister is completely out of touch. I have been to 12 picket lines and there has been a fantastic response both from workers and the general public. The Government can try to spin and tell lies, but they have been found out."

The Public and Commercial Services union reported a "huge" turnout for the strike, with up to 90% of staff in some Government departments, including Revenue and Customs, taking action.

Unison leader Dave Prentis said: "I wouldn't call two million people taking strike action a damp squib. Cameron is sounding increasingly desperate in his attacks on public service workers."

However, warnings of massive delays at Heathrow airport failed to materialise, with passengers saying border controls were "better than usual".

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the strike was "inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible", adding: "Responsibility for any disruption which people may experience lies squarely with union leaders."

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