Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.
More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.
Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.
Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.
The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.
A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.
The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.
Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.
Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.
Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.
These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.
“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”
The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.
Most were delighted at the turnout.
Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”
Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.
“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”
A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.
One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.
Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.
“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”
Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.
Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.
And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.
The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.”
Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.
Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.
Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 10 July 2014
Hundreds of people from the North East joined 50,000 protesters in London’s Parliament Square to campaign against austerity measures.
Two coaches full of determined protesters assembled at Newcastle’s Central station and South Shields’ Town Hall on Saturday, before they made the six hour journey down to the capital.
> There was also a coach from Sunderland, according to the Sunderland Echo.
The protesters were armed with colourful banners and placards designed by local artist group, Artists for Change, their message was conveyed in just a few words; “No Cuts, No More Austerity; Demand the Alternative.”
Upon arrival, they marched passed the BBC headquarters in Portland Place where they accused the broadcasters of ignoring the plight of thousands of impoverished Britons affected by the cuts.
> The BC evidently didn’t notice, as they ignored the protest until the next day…
They then marched to Parliament Square where the crowds were addressed by union workers, politicians and celebrities such as Russell Brand and journalist Owen Jones.
Mum-of-four Ruth Stevenson, 35, from Wallsend, attended the demonstration after the cuts put her family under extreme financial strain. She said: “It was really well organised and there were loads of families and children, people in wheelchairs, and even choirs at the sides of the marches.
“There was a fantastic feeling of all people united. There were NHS staff, firefighters, monks and all sorts of people there. The amount of bus loads of people who arrived was amazing.”
The National secretary of the People’s Assembly, Sam Fairbairn, talked to the masses about the negative impact of the coalition’s cuts on communities and workers.
He said: “Make no mistake, these cuts are killing people and destroying cherished public services which have served generations.”
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched one year ago through an open letter co-signed by the late Tony Benn, along with a variety of union leaders, MPs and writers.
Ruth was moved to attend the demonstration when she realised she would have to forgo paying two-months worth of bills to ensure she has enough money to buy her children school uniforms.
She said: “I went because the cut-backs have really affected my family. This is the first year ever I am going to have to default on two months worth of bills to pay for school uniforms.
“School uniforms are really expensive and this year it is going to be too much. Although the cost of living has increased, wages have stayed the same. So it is really hard on families.”
She also has concerns for the future education of her four children.
“At the moment I am worried about my daughter Victoria who is really intelligent. I want her to go to university but I just don’t know how I am going to support her financially.
“And if I can’t support Victoria then I don’t know how I will manage with the rest of them,” she added.
Ruth believes the British people have fought hard for institutions such as the NHS, trade unions and the welfare system only to have them taken back.
“We have spent the last 50 years making sure that these institutions are there to protect ordinary people but now it is like the government is slowly removing the support network.”
Tony Dowling, Chair of the North East’s People’s Assembly, who helped to organise the North East protesters agrees that it is the hard-working and vulnerable who have been affected by the cutbacks the most.
He said: “The people who are being affected are the students who no longer have education maintenance allowance, the parents of children who have had their disability allowance cut or the NHS patients who face having to pay for their treatment in future.”
Tony helped to put together the North East’s cohort of the People’s Assembly in September 2013 at Northern Stage Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne, and since then, the fast growing group have been busy organising workshops, public meetings, and petitions.
The 57-year-old, who is a specialist behaviour support teacher from Gateshead, hopes the demonstration has encouraged more people to join the People’s Assembly. He also wants it to be a reminder that the crisis was not caused by the people, but by the banks and the sub-prime mortgage lenders in the US.
“The banks have been bailed out but ordinary people have been made to pay for it. There is a small number, around 85 people – a double decker bus load – to be exact, who own as much wealth as 50% of people put together.”
Tony added that the ultimate goal of the People’s Assembly is to make the government come up with an alternative economic strategy to end poverty in the North East and in the rest of the UK.
“We want more jobs, less cut-backs, no privatisation of the NHS,” added Tony.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 23 June 2014