Thousands of striking public sector workers staged a rally in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square today as their walkout caused widespread disruption.
Union organisers have declared a record turnout for a midday rally in Guildhall Square, with more than 3,000 people joining the protest.
Sion Reynolds, secretary if the local branch of the NASWT, said: ‘This is about empowering teachers to stand up for themselves.
‘We want to be delivering top quality lessons but the government is refusing to be reasonable and negotiate.’
After gathering in the Guildhall Square, the strikers set off on a march through the city centre before returning to the square.
Among the groups appearing in support of the strikers during today’s rally were the Portsmouth Pensioners, members of Hampshire Fire and Rescue, an offshoot of the global ‘occupy’ movement who carried banners declaring ‘we are the 99 per cent’, and some Portsmouth city councillors.
Groups of public sector workers had marched towards Guildhall Square for the rally. Mick Tosh, president of the Portsmouth Trades Union Council, joined marchers outside Kingston prison to head for the city centre.
He said: ‘The main event will be at noon outside the Guildhall, but there are feeder marches coming in from across the city. There is a lot going on and a lot of people have come out to show their support for the strikers.’
Yvonne Cleary, regional organiser for the Unite union, said the day was proving to be a huge success.
‘It is hard for public servants to go on strike because it is not in their nature,’ she said. ‘We care for people and it is always a difficult choice for people to make.
‘Which is one reason seeing so many people here is so powerful. Everyone has just had enough, and this is only the beginning.
‘The government needs to start listening to us.’
Some of the day’s loudest chanting came from transport union the RMT, and earlier their national president Alex Gordon addressed the crowd and congratulated them for turning out.
He said: ‘We are sending a message that we do not accept the government’s cuts, and long may this dispute continue until our voices are heard.’
As the rally in Guildhall Square continued, the crowd watched as the big screen showed images of similar demonstrations taking place across the country.
Headteacher of Stamshaw Junior School, Simon Cattermole, said: ‘This strike isn’t just about our pensions, it’s about the generations who are going to follow us into the public sector in years to come.
‘If we don’t have good pensions we are never going to attract the best and the brightest into our public services.’
Sue Logan has worked for the Havant probation service for 22 years and said she came to the rally because public service workers had to stand up for themselves.
She said: ‘We are the backbone of this country and we are being robbed of our pensions and our rights. It is not fair.’
As the protest rally in Guildhall Square drew to an end 22-year-old former University of Portsmouth student Claire Heath, who lost her place on an internship after speaking out about the cuts, addressed the crowd.
‘This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen in Portsmouth,’ she said.
‘I’m so glad I could be here to see this.’
Today’s strike was called amid protests that government pension plans will mean public sector workers will have to work longer, pay more into their pensions and get less when they retire.
Members of 31 unions have voted in favour of industrial action that saw the majority of schools closing, non-emergency hospital operations and non-emergency ambulance call-outs and bins left uncollected. Pickets took place this morning all across the region, including outside Fort Cumberland, Rubbish depos in Havant and Fareham, the closed offices of Gosport borough council, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth University, and Portsmouth City Council’s civic offices.
Jon Woods, Portsmouth Against Cuts Together convenor, said: ‘The mood is determined. We want the government to start genuine negotiations.’
Union members at Portsmouth International Port have been picketing since midnight as part of a day of national strike action.
More than a dozen port workers spent the night outside the port’s freight gate, just off the Rudmore roundabout, to protest the government’s planned changed to public sector pension schemes.
Joining them was Unite organiser Richard Smith who told The News more than 25 port staff in his union will be on strike today and managers were having to step in to replace them.
He said: ‘This might cause disruptions, but at the end of the day it is only for one day, whereas these pension changes are going to affect our members for the rest of their lives.
‘This 24-hour picket is just a sign of how strongly our members feel about what is being done to them.’
Portsmouth City Council has confirmed 35 of the city’s schools are closed today, 17 are partially closed, two are closing this afternoon, and 14 are open.
All the city’s libraries are closed and any staff who arrive for work are being asked to report to the Central Library, in Guildhall Square, in the hope of partially opening it later today.
In Fareham, out of 41 schools 25 are closed, 3 are partially closed and 13 are remaining open.
In Gosport, out of 30 schools, 20 are closed, five are partially closed and five are open.
In Havant and Waterlooville, out of 47 schools, 30 schools are closed, seven are partially closed, and the remainder bar Padnell Juniors who refuse to say are open.
In East Hampshire, out of 13 schools, seven are closed, two are partially closed and four are open.