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Pensions fury has its hour: report from central London actions

Yesterday an estimated 30, 000 teachers, lecturers and civil servants marched through London to show their opposition to the proposed changes to public sector pensions, writes Rachel Brooks

The march was organised by the NUT, ATL, UCU and PCS as part of a nationwide day of industrial action against the governments attack.

The protest attracted many more numbers then organisers expected, drawing in large delegations from workplaces across the city. Banners from teachers’ associations (NUT) and PCS branches filled up Lincoln’s Inn Fields hours before the demonstration even took off, with some from other unions, such as Unison, who were not on strike, showing their support.

The demonstration itself was a huge show of force from the British working class. Unison members in a housing office in Camden also called a one-day strike over redundancies, and were able to hold a picket and attend the demonstration. There was an excellent atmosphere, with much anger focused on Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The levels of rage and frustration at the Con-Dems was evident, with many feeling the proposed changes were simply theft. As one young teacher from Hackney said: “They’re just plucking figures out of thin air: I don’t even know where they got this 3% from, that we’re supposed to pay on top of existing contributions. It is all based on lies.”

Unusually for a national teachers’ strike, most schools closed the schools on the day. This showed how serious teachers are in this dispute: it is not just about a few more per cent in the pay this year, but hundreds of thousands of pounds being lost in retirement and up to £100 a month going into government coffers for the rest of their careers. No wonder many headteachers supported the action.

The only downside of this the NUT and ATL perhaps assumed that their job was done and failed to put picket lines up. This was a mistake since some NUT and ATL members ended up going into school and doing paper work, undermining the strike and effectively scabbing.

PCS had more effective picket lines, in particular outside the British Museum and British Library. For many young workers this was the first taste of industrial action and it required a stronger explanation of the importance of not crossing picket lines and respecting the strike. Nevertheless, it is times like these that new traditions can be forged and a young generation of militants can come to the fore.

Despite the positive atmosphere on the protest, there was a much darker side: youth, who came out to support their teachers and lecturers were systematically picked up by police throughout the demonstration. It escaped no one’s attention that those searched and arrested were predominantly from the black and Asian communities. It shows a repressive turn by the police, returning to the days when young black and Asian men were never safe from stop and search harassment.

The effect of the strikes clearly took politicians and the poodle press by surprise, and the turnout on the demo was tremendous. We need to look at the successes and failures of this week’s actions and build bigger, stronger strikes in the Autumn.

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