Bridgwater played it’s part in today’s National Strikes protesting against public sector pay freezes with schools closed and picket lines around council buildings, job centre, the Fire station and the library. At midday workers from all the striking unions joined together in solidarity at the town’s cornhill handing out leaflets to the public and proudly flying union banners around the statue of Republican hero Robert Blake.
Workers from the FBU, PCS, UNISON, NUT, UNITE,RMT were joined in the town centre by supporters including Labour councillors Leigh Redman, Brian Smedley and Kathy Pearce.
Somerset County Labour leader and Unite member Leigh Redman said: “There is deep anger at this governments’ assault on public services. This is not just about pay. It’s about the pressure of huge workloads, the targets culture and the stress of bullying managers. People have had enough. Across Britain spending cuts have decimated local services. By 2015/16 the Con/Dem government will have hacked £11.3 billion from local government funds in England alone.”
Cllr Brian Smedley, Labour District group secretary, said “When workers go on strike it’s a hard decision and it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in and when that happens the Labour Movement should come together. I’m here as a Labour councillor and a UNITE member to support the strikers and the stand they’re making on behalf of everyone.”
Vicki Nash, divisional secretary South and West Somerset for the NUT said “The strike is part of our continuing industrial action – we’re suffering from a lack of pay rises and an increase in pension contributions combined with a decrease in benefits and the expectation that we’ll continue to have the same workload. The Government says if we don’t continue on the same terms and conditions, they’re going to put unqualified staff in classrooms instead of teachers. No child should be at the whims and mercy of someone not qualified to the level they should be. The Government won’t sit round the table to talk. If they don’t, this could escalate into the autumn. It’s a great shame because no teacher wants their school to be closed to inconvenience children’s learning or disrupt parents and the community we work in.”
Today’s action comes on the back of the seemingly never-ending Con-Dem government’s public sector pay freeze and policy of Austerity which is causing undue suffering to the lowest paid in society with many earning just above the National Minimum Wage.
Pay increases – when they have been received – have been below inflation since November 2009. The trade unions involved have asked for at least £1 more an hour to start reversing the real cuts in pay and want to ensure no-one in local government gets less than the Living Wage.
A UNITE statement said “The benefit of paying £1 more an hour would be felt wider than just local government workers pockets. Out of every £1 in wages received by local government workers, workers spend an average of 52p in local high streets.By taking industrial action workers are saying they’re are fed up with receiving real pay cuts and are prepared to fight to get a better pay deal. 400,000 job losses in local government since 2010 means staff are working more and getting less.”
The strike and rally was also supported by Bridgwater Trades Union Council who produced a leaflet urging backing for the strikers and whose banner depicting the town’s militant history was on display by the statue, and the Somerset Peoples Assembly, who are committed to fighting Austerity. The leaflet stated ” Cameron and Clegg are not just wrecking public services. Their ‘austerity’ policies are ruing the lives of millions of people..The number of adults living in absolute poverty jumped from 7.7 million to 8.7 million in a year. Meanwhile Britain’s richest people have managed to DOUBLE their wealth in the five years since the financial crash with a combined fortune of £519 billion. Why should workers pay the price for the greed and incompetance of those who control the economic system? “
Cllr Brian Smedley added “It is clear to everybody that this has been the biggest co-ordinated strike action for years and has hit at the very core of the Tory policy, which can be seen by today’s announcements from Cameron that a future Tory government will come down even heavier on workers ability to take action. In the face of this workers need to show solidarity like they have today and stick together.”