‘My message is back us or back off’

The teachers rally makes its way through the streets of Doncaster to the Mansion House.
The teachers rally makes its way through the streets of Doncaster to the Mansion House.
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CLASSROOMS stood empty and council services suffered as thousands of Doncaster public sector workers walked out on strike yesterday.

Across the borough, 76 schools were either fully or partially closed because of action by the NUT and ATL teachers’ unions over pensions.

Similar action over pensions crippled the borough’s job centre, where the borough’s branch of the PCS civil servants union reported 90 per cent of its staff were on strike.

The same union affected proceedings at the borough’s law courts, although cases were still heard. Its members reported some magistrates had refused to cross their picket lines at College Road.

Staff at the Colonnades council offices, Doncaster Council’s biggest public payment centre, were not taking any payments, due to action by the borough’s branch of the local government branch of Unison.

The union is in dispute with Doncaster Council over job losses and cuts to pay and conditions.

Its action also impacted on schools, with catering staff, cleaners and site managers out on strike.

In addition, four adult social education centres were closed - in Thorne, Consibrough, Mexborough and Hayfield. Two day centre centres for the elderly were shut - Askarne Day Centre in Askern and Glebe House in Thorne.

Picket lines appeared at council offices across the borough, and demonstrations in support of the striking unions took place elsewhere. Prison officers at HMP Moorland had their own demonstration outside the jail.

But Doncaster Council’s chief executive, Rob Vincent, said: “With the exception of school closures and a small proportion of adult day centres, we have been able to ensure the vast majority of council services have continued largely as normal and we have had no reports of any major problems.”

The main protest was a march from Doncaster Council’s Council House office block to the Mansion House, followed by a rally.

Around 100 marchers took part in the protest carrying placards and the shouting slogans “Cameron out” and “Nick Clegg, shame on you for turning blue”. They were escorted by a police van and four police officers on foot.

Officials from the Doncaster branches of all the striking unions addressed the crowd.

The borough’s NUT membership secretary Pat Sanderson apologised to parents for the disruption the schools strike had caused, but said teachers had no choice but to take action.

She said it was unfair teachers were having to suffer for the financial crisis caused by international bankers.

She said: “Our pensions are unfair, we’re told, because we will live six years longer, so we must work an extra eight years. They are targeting us because we are an easy option.

“We may live another six years, but there is no guarantee they will be an extra six healthy years.”

The borough’s PCS branch secretary Mike Shaw told the rally the strike yesterday was about an attack on his members’ pensions.

But he added: “It is also about defending public services. We care about the unemployed and single parents, who are worried their benefits could be smashed.

“We are here for all the public.”

Doncaster’s Unison branch secretary Jim Board criticised Doncaster North MP and Labour leader Ed Miliband for failing to support the strike, describing him as having never known poverty.

He told the rally: “I want to send a message to Ed Miliband about his weasel words when he preached to us that strikes were wrong.

“My message is back us or back off.”