Strikers united on pension plans

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
Teaching staff fill city streets with voices of defiance over Government's proposed reform

Maggie Thatcher, we still hate you, fa la la la laaa, la la la la!" The small but very vocal group of marchers chanting to the festive tune of "Deck the Halls" were probably not even born when the last teachers' strike hit Scotland.

But from their cheery rants to The Communards' pop hit "Don't Leave Me this Way" blaring from the union demo bus, the return to the Eighties was palpable.

Thousands of teachers, janitors, classroom assistants and technicians marched through Edinburgh, blasting hooters and whistles, each group identifiable by coloured flags and banners.

Estimates of numbers ranged from 5,000 to 22,000 as demonstrators in the capital marched down the Royal Mile, joining what was billed as the largest day of trade union action in living memory.

Some 87 per cent of Scottish teachers and other education professionals walked out; that's 42,500 staff in towns and cities across Scotland - representing a saving in unpaid salaries of just under pound;9 million.

For Audrey McAuley, 50, Wednesday's strike marked a worrying return to the way her career started in the 1980s when she joined the last teacher walkout.

Mrs McAuley, who teaches at St John's Academy in Perth, said: "I started as a teacher at a time of strike. We fought for everything then and we succeeded.

"We don't want to go back to where we were then. but we're moving backwards."

Like many protestors, she viewed the pensions proposal as the final straw in a series of damaging cuts, including the two-year pay freeze.

"This is now a step too far. I'm about 10 years off retirement and I can't possibly make up the shortfall.

"I would need to work another six years. The pension and holidays are the bonuses of teaching, we need those to make up for lower pay."

Livingston secondary teacher Pamela McGregor, 35, estimated the changes would force her to work an extra seven years and cost her pound;100,000 in increased contributions and loss of the final pension pot. But she said: "It's not about the money. It's the principle. The government reviewed our pensions and said we did not need to be reviewed again until 2050."

Early years officer Fiona McKay, 27, from the Ladybird Nursery in Glenrothes was among the younger protesters. She said: "I'm here because I'm so far away from my pension, I've still got another 40-plus years to go and what I signed up for is not going to be there.

"I love my job but I really don't think I'd be wanting to do this at the age of 70 or 71! For as long as the strikes are single days, I've said I will carry on."

Non-teaching staff also turned out, with Edinburgh's Broughton High technician Len Fyfe among the crowd.

Mr Fyfe, 56, said: "So many of my colleagues here would never have thought they would strike, but it's a bridge too far (the pensions proposal).

"I chose to be a public servant but I have been punished for that. I could have been paid a lot more in the private sector. "I'd have liked to retire before 65, but there's absolutely no prospect of that. I have a young family. My extra contributions would be another pound;100 per month."

William Mackay, 42, held a placard for Leith Academy, where he teaches. He said: "I have friends who work in banking and their bonus is bigger than my salary, and yet they complain that we are going on strike."

Exuberant booing from the crowd showed he was not alone, as union leaders derided bankers and politicians alike at a rally outside the Scottish Parliament.

In Numbers

87 - percentage of Scottish teachers and associated professionals who went on strike

pound;8.9 million - the amount saved in salaries for staff who joined the walkout

1 - percentage of Scottish local authority schools that were open

17 - further education colleges were closed, while 24 were open with some disruption to classes.

Original headline: Strikers unite on a pensions `bridge too far'

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