Public services in North Ayrshire were disrupted last Wednesday (November 30) – an indication of the vital roles carried out by public sector workers – during a national one-day strike against UK Government proposals to cut pension entitlement and force people to work years longer.
Staff members from North Ayrshire Council and the health service picketed their places of work on Wednesday morning, before heading to Glasgow for a march and rally attended by over 25,000 people. As the massive demonstration made its way through Glasgow city centre, members of the public lined the pavements, applauding the strikers.
Following the ‘day of action’, Stephanie Herd, North Ayrshire branch secretary of UNISON, the largest public sector trade union, said, “The Branch extends thanks to members who took part in strike action, picket duty and supported the march and rally in Glasgow.
“Strike action is always a last resort and unfortunately the UK Government is to blame for the inconvenience and disruption caused – they continue to provoke public sector workers, as we heard in the Chancellors Autumn Statement.”
Ms Herd concluded, “UNISON and other public sector trade unions are determined to protect pensions – we contribute into our pension funds to ensure we have some security in our retirement; it’s our deferred wages, not a down-payment to bail out the bankers.”
Supporting his colleague, Paul Wilcox, a UNISON shop-steward in the health service, said, “We're just getting hammered on the pensions. Basically, we're low-paid workers - auxiliaries, nurses, porters, domestics - and enough is enough.
“We don't go on strike for a whim, we're not looking for a fight, but the fight has been brought to us by the Tory Government.”
Almost 30 trade unions were involved in the one-day strike, with many public sector workers taking industrial action for the first-time in their careers. Mike Kirby, Scottish Secretary for UNISON and president of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, commented, “We hope the Government will realise that they need to get back down to some serious discussion with the trade unions.”
Despite UK Government scare stories, including that strike action would lead to people going without vital health treatment, a Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed negotiations with trade unions had meant only non-essential operations had been cancelled on the day, with routine out-patient check-ups being rescheduled.
At the Scottish Parliament, SNP MSPs were criticised for crossing picket lines alongside MSPs from the Tories and Liberal Democrats, the parties of government at Westminster responsible for the attack on public sector workers. Local SNP MSP Margaret Burgess crossed the picket line, but took the opportunity of a parliamentary debate to offer support to the strikers.
During a speech on Public Sector Pension Reform, Mrs Burgess told the chamber, “In my constituency the majority of those in employment are employed in the public sector. Many families in my constituency, working in the public sector, are really struggling to make ends meet at present. They are already experiencing a pay-freeze, higher VAT, significant increases in energy costs, rising inflation, increases in national insurance contributions and proposed cuts to working tax credits. They are having to make the choice between heating or eating, between buying shoes for their children or paying their house insurance. Make no mistake about it, these are some of the hard choices families are facing.”
Mrs Burgess, whose Cunninghame South constituency includes Stevenston, added, “There is a real concern that many of these families will simply choose to opt out of contributing to pensions, but that would be in no one’s interest, as it would leave individuals and families in a worse position on retirement and leave the pension schemes vulnerable as less money would be going in.”
The MSP concluded, “Asking public sector workers to pay more towards their pensions at this time is plain daft.”