Striking workers took to the streets in protest at Government pension reforms.
Schools and public buildings closed, NHS Forth Valley was forced to cancel minor operations and appointments at its showpiece £300 million Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert and dozens of local services were brought to a standstill yesterday (Wednesday).
Thousands of pupils across Falkirk district enjoyed an extra day’s holiday when their school stayed shut and motorists were able to park where they liked as traffic wardens withdrew their labour.
But the dispute the Government claims ‘few people want and no-one can afford’ also hit the unemployed and elderly as public sector and Falkirk Council staff abandoned their desks and manned picket lines forcing job centres, benefits offices and the Child Support Agency, One Stop shops, some libraries and sports centres to close. Refuse collections were also hit as a result of the largest industrial action to hit the country in decades.
Crucially, a deal was agreed between Falkirk Council and the unions to maintain a ‘life and limb’ service for OAPs living in care homes or alone to protect the most vulnerable. Some council tradesmen were also on standby during the course of the day to tackle emergency housing repairs.
While hundreds joined rallies in Glasgow and Edinburgh, others packed St Francis Xavier Church hall in Falkirk for a meeting attended by leading union officials including STUC general council member John Keggie of Unison and Alex McLuckie of the GMB. Falkirk Trades Union Council convener Derek Keen said later: “There is a real sense of anger at the proposed changes to the pension rights and job security of our members. We have been given overwhelming support by the public.
“This is nothing to do with making public sector pensions affordable. This a straightforward cash-grab penalising working people.”
Gray Allan, secretary of the Falkirk Council branch of Unison, said: “I would say the day was an outstanding success. To have around 300 council employees attend one meeting in the town was very encouraging. Across the area I’d estimate up to 70 per cent of Falkirk Council’s workforce took part in the day of action. The council can’t operate with that level of absence so it was more or less a 100 per cent shut down.
“Given the support for the issues we have to be more than satisfied, but the question is where we go from here to continue to make the Westminster Government sit up and listen to what we are saying.
“I will stress again Unison and our union colleagues did not take Wednesday’s action without careful consideration and I think the public appreciates that. We will continue to campaign to get the message on our pension concerns across and make it clear at the same time we are equally opposed to any attacks on pensions in the private sector, which we believe will be targeted by greedy employers unless the employees and their unions make a strong stand.”
Every Labour member of Falkirk Council stayed away from the Municipal Buildings yesterday, while the SNP, Conservative and Independent councillors opted to work from home.
Labour and Green MSPs refused to cross picket lines at the Scottish Parliament, but SNP MSPs including Falkirk’s Michael Matheson and Angus MacDonald joined Tory and Lib Dem rivals to debate the issue of public sector pensions. Finance secretary John Swinney said: “I do not support the strike action. I have already crossed the picket line outside St Andrew’s House and expect to cross the picket line outside the Scottish Parliament when I go there to debate because I think what the UK Government has done has been very damaging to the industrial climate in Scotland. We have a long-term debate about the sustainability of pensions which I think is a fair and reasonable debate to have.”
Falkirk Labour MP Eric Joyce said: “I wholeheartedly support our public sector workers in their industrial action. From lollipop men and women to dinner ladies and office workers, all they want is to protect their modest pensions in the face of an attack by government on the very principle of public services. It’s not a lot to ask.”