MUCH of Huddersfield ground to a halt as thousands of public sector workers walked out.
Teachers, council staff, probation officers and lecturers in the town were among millions taking industrial action across the country yesterday against Government plans to change pension schemes.
The strike caused disruption across Huddersfield. These included:
The vast majority of schools were closed
All Kirklees College sites were shut to students
No bins were emptied. All residents who missed a collection will have to wait two weeks for the next one
Home care, children’s homes and adult care homes ran at a minimum level of service
Huddersfield Crematorium at Fixby was closed
Yorkshire Ambulance Service ran a restricted operation, with non-emergency journeys cancelled
Dozens of council buildings were closed. Staff who did work were concentrated in the Civic Centre and the Gateway to Care building.
However, some public services continued operating throughout the day-long stoppage, including Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court and the driving test centre on Waverley Road.
Dozens of unions, including Unison, the National Union of Teachers and the GMB, took part in yesterday’s action.
Pickets were out at many locations across Huddersfield yesterday morning.
Six members of Unison were outside Civic Centre 3 at 9.40am.
They asked a young man entering the building not to cross their picket line.
He replied: “I’m just temping until Christmas, I’m keeping out of the way.”
When the pickets asked him to support their cause, he replied: “I’m sure when it’s my time to retire, I’ll be about 75.”
Members of Unison and the University and College Union (UCU) picketed the University of Huddersfield yesterday morning.
UCU representative Steven Lui said: “I’ve been here since 9am and some people have been here since earlier. The campus is very quiet today and drivers have hooted their horns in support.”
Mr Lui, 49, from Leeds, who is a mental health lecturer at the university, explained why he was on strike.
“The Government want me to pay more, work longer and receive less,” he said.Related content
Midwifery lecturer Christina Howarth was also on the picket line yesterday.
The Todmorden 58-year-old said: “I’ve been paying into my pension all my working life and I’ve trusted my employers to pay out what they said they would.
“The Government is now saying it’s going to give me less. It’s breaking its agreement with me and is now proposing I pay more and they give me less.
“Anywhere else that would be considered fraud.”
Unions hailed the strike by up to two million public sector workers across the country, including Yorkshire, as “historic” as they angrily rejected claims by the Prime Minister that the biggest walkout in a generation had been a “damp squib”.
David Cameron told the Commons that the “irresponsible and damaging” industrial action had been far from universally supported as he defended the Government’s controversial pension reforms.
Officials from 30 unions involved in the strike reported huge support, with up to 90% of some organisations taking action, often for the first time in their lives.
The strike closed more than three quarters of schools in England, as well as courts, museums, libraries and jobcentres, disrupted transport, hospitals and Government departments, led to around 15% of driving tests being cancelled, and was described by unions as the biggest since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.
Physiotherapists, headteachers, librarians, lollipop ladies, refuse collectors, weather forecasters and scientists were among those involved in the stoppage.
The civil service union Prospect said action by 26,000 of its members alone disrupted or stopped work at more than 400 locations, ranging from Ministry of Defence sites to prisons.
More than 1,000 rallies were held across the UK, including one in central London attended by tens of thousands of workers, some accompanied by their children.
Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, said the rally showed the depth of anger among public sector workers, adding: “The Prime Minister is completely out of touch. I have been to 12 picket lines and there has been a fantastic response both from workers and the general public.
“The Government can try to spin and tell lies, but they have been found out.”
See next page for full report and video on the strike rally in St George's Square.
THOUSANDS of marchers crammed into St George’s Square for the largest trade union rally in the town for years.
Teachers, carers and bin men were among more than 2,000 people demonstrating against public sector pension changes yesterday.
Many thousands more took part in the action across Huddersfield
Probation officer Penny Lawrence, 51, was among trade unionists gathering in St George’s Square before the march set off at 10.30am.
“If these changes go through, I will have to work until I’m 68,” said the National Association of Probation Officers member.
“This strike is about valuing public service.
“I’ve devoted my life to public service and I work very hard – people I know in the private sector earn a lot more than me.”
She was joined by Sarah Nolan, 27, who also works at Huddersfield Probation Office on St John’s Road.
The Unison member said: “I’ll be 68 when I retire, which means I have more than 40 years to go.
“I love my job but the majority of service-users are aged 18 to 24 and they want people they can relate to.”
Richard Gray was among representatives of the University and College Union at yesterday’s demonstration.
The Kirklees College art and design lecturer said: “These changes affect young staff coming into the profession. Do students really want lecturers who are 67?”
The demonstrators set off for two laps of the town centre at 11am.
Unison education chief steward Mike Forster told the Examiner: “The turnout is brilliant and the response from the public is very good. People have been applauding and have been very supportive.”
Mr Forster then handed a leaflet to a motorist stuck in a queue of traffic waiting for the march to pass. The driver gave him the thumbs-up.Related content
But other passers-by were not supportive.
Restaurant owner Paul Wood was trying to cross Market Place as the march went past.
“They ought to get some work done,” he told the Examiner.
“I think this is an outrage. The country is on its knees because of the Government that this lot supported.
“I have a proper job. I haven’t even got a pension and I’m working six or seven days a week.
“Kirklees sacked thousands and no-one missed them. No-one will miss these.”
But Terry Ainley, 66, of Cowcliffe, was more supportive.
The retired roofer was watching the march on New Street.
“I have sympathy with them. For some jobs you wouldn’t be able to work until you’re 68.”
The marchers arrived back in the square at 11am to listen to speeches by trade union leaders.
Public and Commercial Services Kirklees chairman Trevor Andrews told the crowd: “A lot has been made about why should public sector workers have a pension which private sector workers don’t have.
“But the real issue is that private sector pensions have been driven down over the years.
“We want fair pensions for all – not equality in misery in retirement.”
Hazel Danson, of Kirklees National Union of Teachers, told the crowd that the Government was attempting “the unravelling of the welfare state”.
Kirklees Council leader Clr Mehboob Khan spoke in favour of the strike.
The Greenhead Labour man said: “We have to keep this fight going. We have the public on our side. Let’s carry on, comrades, until we have won the fight for fair pensions.”
University and College Union representative Dr Nasim Hasnie drew loud cheers when he told the crowd: “Strikes are a basic democratic necessity.”
Kirklees Unison branch secretary Paul Holmes was the final speaker at the rally.
He told protesters: “This pension plan is an assault on your standard of living. Don’t think this is going to be a one-day strike because it isn’t.”
See next page for why ambulance crews operated a limited service on strike day.
AMBULANCE crews operated a limited service for 12 hours due to the day of strike action.
Huddersfield paramedics were among many public sector workers who took part in the strike due to proposed Government changes to their pensions.
From 5.30am to 6pm, they waved banners reading ‘pension robbery’ and thanked passing drivers, who beeped to show support.
But they kept the blue lights flashing to indicate they were still operating emergency services.
Union secretary Angela Skelton said: “We made the decision to limit our strike to 12 hours instead of 24.
“Our fight is not with the public, so we reached a happy medium and at 6pm everybody went back to their normal duties.
“We hope the outcome is the government will take a look at the ambulance service and ask whether at 68-years-old should we still be carrying people up and down steps?
“The current NHS pension scheme is very healthy, we don’t understand where the Government are getting these distorted figures from.
“The average pension is between £4,000 an £5,000 a year.
“Ours have not been inflated, we have had a pay freeze up until next April and 1% pay cuts year on year.”
Union rep Mick Cross has been with the ambulance service for 31 years, he said: “With the proposed changes we are expected to work until aged 68.
“The job is physically demanding and mentally challenging, doing it at that age is impossible.
“The police and the fire service retire after 30 years, we do not.
“We ran emergency services throughout the day and continued services for renal and oncology patients.
“The public have not been at risk from anything we have done and we have kept our blue lights flashing to let them know this.”
Jenni Firth went to work at 8pm and after finishing her shift at 6am yesterday, she went straight to front of the picket line. She held up a banner which read: “Wanted, 68-year-old paramedic must be able to fulfil all duties.”
Liam Gibson, 20, also joined the strike but left to attend to renal patients.
He said: “I have been in the ambulance service for a year now. This is really important to people that have been with the service for a long time.
“But at the same time it does concern me that if Government plans go ahead, it could increase further by my age and I could be working till the age of 70.
“I finished my apprenticeship in Sheffield and to be able to keep a job at all within the ambulance service, I have to travel to Huddersfield every day.”
Yorkshire Ambulance Service chief executive David Whiting said: “We have taken a number of steps to ensure we keep the level of disruption to patient care to a minimum while some staff are taking part in the national industrial action.”
Those needing advice or treatment for a non-emergency situation or minor ailment where redirected to pharmacists, GP surgeries or walk-in centres.
See next page for a chat with one striker to see why they felt they needed to be out on the picket line.
MOTHER-OF-TWO Angela Waller was among pickets outside Civic Centre 1 during the public sector strike.
The Kirklees Council engineer, 44, has worked in local government for 25 years.
She told the Examiner why she was taking part in yesterday’s strike.
“At the moment I pay 6.4% of my wage into my pension but the Government wants to increase that by 3.2%,” she said.
“It’s unacceptable that I should have to pay 50% more to allow the Government to take the money to pay for the deficit.
“I’ve been paying in since I was 18 which is a long time to be paying in and then have the rug pulled out from under you.”
The Barnsley woman, who has two sons, also opposes Government plans to increase the retirement age to 68.
“It would mean I have less time to spend with my children,” she said.
“I want to retire and help them when they have children.
“I’m also concerned about youth unemployment because there will be fewer jobs if people retire later.”