STRIKING civil servants mounted picket lines in Westminster today, hours before Chancellor Alistair Darling unveils his last Budget before the general election.
Mr Darling will have to cross the picket lines, set up by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) in its first ever Budget Day strike in a bitter row over redundancy pay.
Union activists protested outside Government buildings in central London from 6.30am, holding up banners, handing out leaflets and chanting "job cuts no way" and " save our jobs on Budget Day".
Motorists tooted to show their support as they drove past.
Groups gathered outside the Treasury and the Houses of Parliament, ready for Mr Darling to pass.
PCS national officer Paul Barnsley, who joined striking workers outside HM Revenue and Customs, said: "What we are asking people to do today is support our campaign to defend our redundancy scheme in the civil service.
"We think that, come the next election, whichever government is elected plans huge cuts in the public sector. We believe thousands of our members’ jobs are at risk.
"We believe cuts to our redundancy scheme will make it cheaper and easier to sack people who work in the civil service."
The strike is set to disrupt courts, jobcentres, benefit offices, driving tests, prisons and ports.
The stoppage will also see civilian staff and 999 operators working for the Metropolitan Police walking out, as well as security staff working in the Houses of Parliament.
A union spokesman said early indications were that the strike was being "solidly" supported and would cause particular disruption at the British Library and National Archives.
Welsh Assembly members were expected to refuse to cross picket lines in Cardiff and a number of Labour MPs are expected to remain in their constituencies today rather than walk past striking workers.
A union battle bus will tour picket lines in London and a campaign boat will cruise up and down the River Thames outside the Houses of Parliament.
The last two-day stoppage saw the cancellation of business in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament when Assembly members and MSPs refused to cross picket lines.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "It is no coincidence that PCS members are striking on Budget Day to defend jobs and services. As the Government seeks to make it easier and cheaper for whoever wins the election to cut civil and public servants, we can expect a drive to slash jobs which will ultimately lead to poorer services.
"Loyal civil servants have already seen the damage that 100,000 job cuts have wrought and will not stand by and allow the jobs and services they are proud to deliver slashed.
"In the Budget, the Government has an opportunity to stamp out tax avoidance and evasion by companies and wealthy individuals. Alongside dealing with uncollected taxes, this would provide over £100 billion towards cutting the deficit.
"The Government needs to start valuing its own workforce by standing up for public services and reaching an agreement on redundancy pay that protects people’s entitlements."
The union is also taking legal action against the Government over cuts to the level of redundancy paid to civil servants losing their jobs. The case is due to be heard on April 22 and 23.
Labour MP John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) said: "There is a real depth of anger amongst civil servants at the way the Government has torn up their basic contracts. If the Government was only willing to seek arbitration, this dispute could be resolved."
Gordon Brown’s spokesman, asked if the Prime Minister would be willing to cross a picket line to enter Parliament, said: "I’m sure the PM will be at his usual place at the despatch box for Prime Minister’s Questions."
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Dominic McFadden, 50, from Hertfordshire, who has worked for Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for 30 years, was on the picket line at the Treasury.
He said: "We would like to say to Alistair Darling that if he is making a Budget to raise taxes, which he should be to cut the deficit, the people who work at HMRC shouldn’t be made redundant.
"We are on strike today because they are looking to cut our redundancy payments by a third.
"Rather than doing that, they should be employing more people in Revenue and Customs to collect the over £28 billion in uncollected taxes, £25 billion in taxes that are avoided and £70 billion in taxes that are evaded."
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At around 10.40am, union members drove along Whitehall past Downing Street in a red double-decker bus decorated with balloons, flags and banners.
A woman led chanting using a loud hailer, declaring: "Gordon Brown, hear what we say, we are out on strike today."
The vocal messages also included: "No more job cuts on the cheap" and "We’re impossible to defeat".