STRIKING public sector workers made their feelings known with minimal disruption on Wednesday.
The strike to protest about pension changes and cuts hit schools hardest as 1,461 teachers walked out closing 185 schools and partially closing 60 out of 343 across Suffolk. The impact varied from town to town with 13 of Bury St Edmunds’ 24 closed and eight out of 10 shut in Stowmarket but only one of six closed in Mildenhall.
There was little impact on other county or district council services – even the dustbins were emptied.
West Suffolk Hospital said: “We have been meeting regularly with our staff so that we can keep any disruption to a minimum and have agreed with the unions that clinical staff in areas such as A&E, emergency admissions unit, neonatal, inpatient wards and trauma and emergency theatres should be exempt from today’s industrial action.”
With 98 striking, 3.1 per cent of its staff, the hospital rearranged three operations and 15 outpatient appointments.
On the hospital picket, Unison branch secretary for Bury and District Health Graham Kendall said: “The decision to strike by a lot of our members is one they didn’t take lightly. We have been in close negotiations with the trust to make sure no patients are put at risk.
“We’re sending a strong message to the Government that we totally disagree with their proposals regarding our pensions. They’re making us contribute more, work longer and receive less at the end of it. You’re going to have staff who will be working until 68 and even longer.”
About 180 of 450 staff at West Suffolk College were on strike but it remained open all day and students were able to use college facilities for private study if classes were cancelled.
Vice-principal business and community Martyn Wagner said: “This national call for action does not reflect any dispute with our staff. The unions are taking issue with proposed changes to their members’ pension arrangements which are being introduced by the Government.”
At a march down Bury’s Abbeygate Street to Angel Hill, college lecturer Tony Cunningham said: “The catalyst is pensions, but it’s much deeper than that. It’s about resources being taken away from the public sector.
“They’ve got companies coming in and they’re taking the fat end for themselves but the quality of teaching is diminished.”
Though Unison members were the bulk of the march, there were also people from the Civil Service union PCS, teaching unions, Unite and the Royal College of Nurses. In addition to unions affected by the Government’s plans, others expressed support, including some Bury firemen.
Fire Brigades Union Suffolk branch secretary Pete Taylor said: “Such is the feeling among fire fighters that we’re fully in support of our comrades. The various other unions provide back-up for the fire brigade.”
Unison regional organiser Sam Leigh said: “Our members have decided to take this historic day of action to defend their pensions and speak out against changes. We’re expected to pay three per cent more on pension contributions, which for many will mean a 50 per cent increase.
“It’s not because the pension schemes are in crisis it’s because ministers have decided they’re going to take money off public sector workers to pay off the country’s deficit caused by the bankers.
“Many are low paid workers and many have never been on strike before.”
The marchers were good natured and prepared to debate issues reasonably with passers-by, but one elderly man in an electric buggy accelerated into the mass of marchers, shouting abuse.
They responded merely by creating a corridor through the crowd for him.