The following article appeared in this week's Weston Mercury. The comment made about the Mercury's own poll showing that two thirds of Mercury readers did not agree with teachers striking was not reflected by the experience of pickets, who got support from passing motorists and members of the public; neither was it reflected in the experience of marchers who were applauded by members of the public as they walked through Bristol.
More strikes - warn workers
Article by Tom Wright, 1st December 2011
THOUSANDS of North Somerset workers went on strike on Wednesday over proposed pension reforms, in the largest national public sector walkout since the 1970s.
Teachers, council workers and health professionals led the protests outside North Somerset Council buildings in Weston, with a variety of slogans criticising the Coalition Government’s attempts to raise the retirement age and change contribution rates.
The mass walkoutforced 34 schools across the region to be closed or partially shut, giving pupils a day off school and causing problems for working parents who had to find a way of looking after their children. No secondary schools were open anywhere in North Somerset.
Health services, libraries and Bristol Airport were also similarly affected by the industrial action. Protesters outside Somerset House said what the Government had proposed was unfair.
Sam Taylor, who works in adult social services, said she hoped the strike action would force Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to change his mind and said she was prepared to strike again if his position did not change.
Her views were echoed by colleague Nikki Askins who said the pension reforms had been the final straw. She said: “We haven’t had a pay rise in many years. The Government has already announced that we won’t get one for another few years which is essentially a pay cut when you consider how quickly prices are rising.”
She accepted that changes to pensions would in all likelihood have to be made in the future given the difficult economic climate, but questioned the severity of the current proposals.
Social worker Susannah Weeks from Weston said at the moment public sector workers were being made a scapegoat and being forced to work longer and pay more for their retirement package.
Unite, Unison, GMB and teaching unions NUT and NASUWT were among the unions that voted for strike action earlier this month after negotiations broke down.
Nationwide an estimated two million public sector workers went on strike despite the Chancellor’s claims it would not force the Government’s hand.
Councillor Jeremy Blatchford, executive member for education, said people had to realise the Government’s decision was one made out of necessity.
He said: “I think the union has made its point but it has to accept the simple explanation that there is no money, whether it’s for schools or unions - unless they want to be another Italy or Greece.”
The biggest disruption was seen in schools across the region and in the Mercury’s online poll, two-thirds of those who voted did not agree with teachers striking.
The council closed libraries in Banwell, Congresbury, Weston, Winscombe and Worle due to staff shortages. The mobile library was not in operation either.
But a spokesman for North Somerset Council said the majority of its services were carrying on as normal and there had been no reported disruption to waste or recycling collection.
NHS services were also disrupted by the strikes but GP surgeries remained open as usual.
A spokesman for Weston General Hospital said the emergency department was unaffected and no appointments or operations had to be cancelled. She said doctors and nurses were not part of the strikes which was confined to radiographers and physiotherapists.
UK Border Agency staff also walked out leaving passport control from Bristol Airport leading to some minor delays to incoming passengers.
No further industrial action has been planned but with protestors outside Somerset House prepared to strike again, more strikes could yet take place.