15,000 march on Birmingham in pension strike protest
An estimated 15,000 people joined a public sector trade unions march through Birmingham this afternoon, despite the city council refusing to agree a route following a dispute over road closures.
Thousands of individuals on and supporting the national N30 strike ‘snaked’ through the city streets without official permission after the Birmingham City Council had demanded unions to pay up to £10,000 for road closures. Despite this obstruction, which many strikers felt the Tory-Lib Dem council had deliberately put up in support of the Coalition Government, trade unions including Unison, the NUT, GMB and PCS went ahead with the city centre demonstration; marching from from Lionel Street to the National Indoor Arena for a specially called conference.
Although it was feared the council ‘roadblock’ – coupled with rumours in the local press of the event being cancelled – would scupper the efforts of strikers wishing to protest against what Unison regional secretary Ravi Subramanian described as the “government’s attack on their pensions”, the public march and rally went ahead with a strong turnout by noon.
Earlier in the day, Unison members picketed the Tamebridge House transport engineering workshops for West Midlands fire service in Birmingham.
One striker said, “We are the only workshops across the whole of the West Midlands maintaining fire engines. We are on strike to protect our pensions and future generations. Millions on strike will send the government a strong message that together we can win.”
Some 55 council strikers joined picket lines at Lifford House and there was a very buoyant mood. Pickets sang, “I’d rather be a picket than a scab” as numerous passing motorists honked in support, including vehicles representing the Royal Mail service and Travel West Midlands transport.
Elsewhere, striking council workers gathered at the Birmingham Perry Tree Centre in the early hours. One picket told Socialist Worker, “Our pay has been cut, there’s fewer than half the staff on shift and now they want to charge us to park outside our workplace.
“These cuts are devastating care for older people who have Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. We are predominantly women and our work is hard. I hope there is a massive protest in the city today and we shut it down. It’s about time Cameron, Clegg and Osborne get a taste of our power.”
Over half of the schools in Birmingham were affected by the strikes as care workers, administrative staff, refuse collectors and a host of other public workers took part in 24-hour industrial action.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT), Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), GMB and public sector union UNISON also put their weight behind the action, when last night around 72,000 of all of the unions’ collective Birmingham members voted in favour of joining the national strike, said to be the largest in decades.
Doug Morgan, assistant secretary of the Birmingham branch of NUT, felt the wider public was fully behind the strikes. He explained:
“This is the actions of nurses, our teachers, our care workers. These are the people who look after society that are doing this and I think we are beginning to get the argument across that not a single penny which will be taken off us will go into a private sector scheme. The money is simply there to pay the deficit.”
At the Birmingham Perry Barr bin depot, all permanent workers had joined the strike, with some of those participating relaying accounts of bosses “threatening” casual staff who had agreed to join the protest.
According to reports, bosses remained on the depot gates while 40 strikers were picketing. Strikers had apparently tried to block bin trucks from leaving but the bosses called in police officers. One worker said, “I’ve worked here for 20 years but I work harder to work the same as I earned then.”
Another added, “I’m a driver. Bosses are telling us we use too much diesel—like I have any control over how much the truck uses. What they mean is they want
us to work harder and faster.”
The protest concluding rally at the NIA was chaired by CWU Midlands Regional Secretary Lee Barron with speakers including NUT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney, GMB West Midlands Regional Secretary Joe Morgan, Unison Assistant General Secretary Karen Jennings and Tony Woodley, Executive Officer for UNITE.