Huge Cambridge turnout for public sector pension strike

Judith Welikala 5 July 2011

An unprecedented crowd of 1,500 gathered at Parker’s Piece last Thursday, as part of a nationwide day of strike action by public sector workers angered by proposed government reforms to their pensions.

Third year Homerton historian Liam McNulty, who attended the rally, said, of the turnout, that it was “the largest for a demonstration that I have seen in Cambridge”.

He added: “The high turnout for the strike and the support shown on Thursday should send a clear message to the government that it will not be able to scapegoat public sector workers for this crisis.

“Public and private need to unite and fight to defeat the coalition’s cuts agenda.”

As members of three teaching unions – the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union (UCU) – went on their day-long nationwide strike, 71 of the 250 maintained schools in Cambridgeshire are reported to have shut. A further 18 partially shut, and only 26 schools remained fully open. Across the country, 11,114 schools, and over two million schoolchildren, were affected. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the UK’s largest civil service union, also went on strike – at least 105,000 civil servants across the UK are thought to have participated, causing disruption to some courts, ports, tax offices and job centres. Unions claim that this number was, in fact, much higher.

The 1,500 strong Cambridge crowd was mirrored by a 5,000 strong gathering in Manchester, 5,000 in Sheffield, and 10,000 on strike in Birmingham.

Carol Gerrard, of the PCS union and one of the speakers at the Cambridge rally, agreed that it “sends a clear message out to David Cameron and Michael Gove – get your hands off our pensions. Let’s march and show Cambridge that we will not be robbed”.

Niamh Sweeney of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and Cambridge Regional College offered her congratulations to Education Secretary, Michael Gove for doing what his predecessors had not achieved: getting union members out on strike.

The rally grew in numbers during day, as the initial crowd of 200 surged to 1,500, setting a new record.

It was followed by a march around the city centre, with chants of “No ifs! No buts! No jobs and pension cuts!” and “Pension cuts? No way, make the greedy bankers pay!”

The demonstration was billed as a family event, with entertainment provided in the form of poetry and music. A bouncy castle and slide were provided as entertainment for children, many of whose schools had closed as a result of the protest.

The proposed pension reforms that prompted Thursday’s industrial action would see most public sector workers paying more into their occupational pensions every year, working for longer and accepting a pension based on a “career average” salary, typically less than the current final salary arrangement.

Judith Welikala