Schools, libraries and fire stations hit in ELL boroughs as public sector workers stage nationwide protest

Strikers at Prendergast-Ladywell Fields College; from left: Emmanuel Moore,  Tolu Ladejobi, Fran Crowhurst. Pic: Niall Sargent

Strikers at Prendergast-Ladywell Fields College; from left: Emmanuel Moore, Tolu Ladejobi, Fran Crowhurst. Pic: Niall Sargent

Hundreds of discontented public sector workers took to the picket lines across the EastLondonlines boroughs as part of the national strike over pay and conditions.

Schools, libraries, fire stations, leisure centres and local authority offices such as housing offices across the boroughs were all affected by the walkout.

Nine out of ten schools closed in Hackney along with two thirds of schools and 38 per cent of libraries across Tower Hamlets. In Croydon, the fire service only ran 27 engines and leisure centre staff walked out over a pay dispute with the private company Fusion Lifestyle that runs the centres on behalf of Croydon.

Unions taking part included the National Union of Teachers , the Fire Brigades Union and the Public and Commercial Services union together with Unite, UNISON and GMB.

Those at the front line of public services are unhappy at Government policies that have led to effective wage freezes since 2010, increased working hours and unfair changes to pension schemes.

Fran Crowhurst, NUT representative for Prendergast-Ladywell Fields College in Lewisham, said they were striking because state education was in a “state of crisis.”

After 32 years teaching, she said she wanted to leave a brighter future in place for young, overworked teachers. “Two out of every five teachers leave within the first five years of teaching because of stress. When I come to school at 7.15am, I can’t get a parking space. People are working morning, noon, and night.”

The unions say the general public sympathise with their cause as they are also feeling the rough end of the damage caused by cutbacks in public services, especially in schools.

“They know that their children’s education is being ruined as there are no regular teachers,” said Crowhurst. “Drivers passing by toot, offering support because they know the state that public services are in… They see the bigger picture.”

Diane Basi, another teacher at the College added: “We wont stop, and are willing to give up the little we have. We’re all giving up a day’s pay which none of us can afford it, but we are thinking about future teachers and, of course, the children.”

Darren Johnson, the Green Party London Assembly Member,  who was at the College to show his support, said drastic action was necessary to protect workers under “huge attack” before the situation gets worse.

“Our public sector workers do an amazing and dedicated job upon which we rely for a civilised, humane society,” he said. “To start unravelling that system will present devastating consequences.”

Colin Inniss, UNISON Regional Organiser for Greater London said public sector unions felt wholly justified in their actions, having made no headway in previous negotiations with government officials who gave a “flat refusal” to enter into constructive dialogue.

GMB supporters in Lewisham Pic Niall Sargent

GMB supporters in Lewisham Pic Niall Sargent

Speaking during a protest outside Lewisham Council offices, he added: “When we started negotiations in September 2013, RPI was at 3.2%, so that’s should have been the starting point of negotiations on pay rises. We offered to have the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) mediate in the dispute but that was refused.”

“We have homes to heat and families to feed,” said Unite Housing representative Gary Cummins, who joined UNISON and GMB representations outside Lewisham Council. “The costs are beginning to bite into us.”

Protest outside Lewisham Council offices Pic: Niall Sargent

Protest outside Lewisham Council offices Pic: Niall Sargent

In Croydon, strikers staged a rally in Queen’s Gardens in the town centre. Croydon’s Unison branch secretary Laurie Pocock told the Croydon Guardian his members were unhappy with the pay rise offered.

He said: “We have had a one per cent pay offer for this year and this follows several years of pay freeze.

“And we have been told that the pay will be capped through to 2017 by the government and enough is enough. Local government workers cannot fund the austerity measures.

“We are asking that the Local Government Association comes back to the negotiating table and makes us a better offer.”

Additional reporting by Gemma Payne

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