Friday 22 September 2017

Millions affected as strikes bring Britain's services grinding to halt

Dan Barber in London

STOP all the trains. Shut down departure zones. Prevent the kids from learning while they sit at home.

British Prime Minister David Cameron may have called it a "damp squib", but the single biggest outbreak of industrial action for a generation brought parts of the UK to a halt yesterday, affecting the lives of millions -- strikers and otherwise.

An estimated 30,000 people joined the march through central London, carrying banners and chanting as it snaked down towards the River Thames then along its banks. Twenty thousand took to the streets in Manchester, 15,000 in Liverpool, and around 5,000 in Birmingham.

In London, as darkness began to fall, around 100 demonstrators from Occupy London, the organisation behind the camp at St Paul's, tried an apparently pre-meditated attack on the London offices of mining firm Xstrata, whose chief executive, Mick Davies, was the highest-paid FTSE director last year.

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Around 60 were successful in forcing their way through the front doors, Occupy London said, and made their way to the roof, unfurling a banner which read: "All power to the 99%".

Although more than 85pc of NHS staff turned up for work, around 6,000 of 30,000 routine operations were cancelled and several ambulance services said they were responding only to "life-threatening" emergencies.

Trade Union Congress General Secretary Brendan Barber told workers on a picket line at St Pancras Hospital: "I think the public realise the reason this strike is going ahead is because of the intransigence from the government and their determination to simply force changes through."

One hospital worker, Andy, said: "My partner and I both work for the NHS. We are taking action, which we don't do lightly, but we feel our pensions are under attack. We are demonised when we are decent human beings working hard to make a living and to provide public services. If the union voted for more strikes in future, I would walk out again."

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union General Secretary Bob Crow addressed crowds of strikers in Newcastle, where strikers brought the Metro system to a halt, causing further traffic problems on key link roads. "Brothers and sisters, I want to salute you. There is not a thing moving on the Metro today," he said to a crowd at Spillars Wharf.

In Northern Ireland, no bus or train services were running. But airports in London, Manchester and Southampton reported little or no delays. Staff at Heathrow said they had been "training for months". The Eurostar left on time, as did ferries.

More than three-quarters of England's state schools faced disruption, with 62pc closing. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that figure was higher, while two-thirds of Northern Ireland's 800 schools faced disruption.

Picketed

At Brentfield Primary School in north-west London, which was open, the National Union of Teachers picketed but failed to recruit any of the school's staff to their number.

"When headteachers, college principals and senior civil servants go out on strike, you really have a problem," said Peter Pendle, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Almost a quarter of the civil service, 146,000, walked out around the country.

In London, they included a handful of Downing Street staff. The Number 10 workers who did turn up were dispatched to London's airports to check passports in the absence of striking Border Agency staff.

London's Barbican was forced to suspend last nights' performance of 'Hamlet' citing "industrial action," while many of the National Gallery collections were closed. (© Independent News Service)

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