Workers united in strike

Council workers, teachers and fire crews gathered at Devonshire Green where they went on a march through the city followed by a rally at Barkers Pool, Sheffield
Council workers, teachers and fire crews gathered at Devonshire Green where they went on a march through the city followed by a rally at Barkers Pool, Sheffield
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More than 2,000 school staff, council workers and firefighters united to stage one of the biggest strikes Sheffield has ever seen.

Barkers Pool was filled with disgruntled union members waving placards, blowing horns and cheering wildly as speakers called for solidarity, action to end Government austerity - and even a general strike.

Pay was the focus of the dispute after public sector workers, who have gone years without a wage rise, were offered a one per cent increase.

But excessive workloads, job losses and pension changes were also laid on the table as reasons behind the decision to walk out - on the day up to 1.4 million workers across the country took action.

School teaching assistant Karl Birkinshaw, who works at Norfolk Park Special School, said: “This is the worst I have seen conditions in schools in 22 years - we haven’t had a pay rise in six.”

Social worker Anita Morley, who works at Rotherham Council but lives in Meersbrook, said: “We have two wages coming in but every month the money disappears, we can’t save, and there are other people not even getting that.

“Wages should rise with inflation - everyone is just finding it harder.”

The crowds marched from Devonshire Green and through Sheffield city centre - bringing traffic to a halt and chanting ‘no ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts’.

Some residents voiced their support, one group had even made biscuits for striking firefighters and a worker had taken her dog wearing a union-themed collar.

Teacher Emma Gillis, aged 42, of Sheffield said: “The workload is getting to the point where it is impossible and the performance related pay I don’t agree with at all.

“It doesn’t encourage people to work harder – it crushes their soul and passion.”

Across Sheffield many schools were closed, including Ecclesfield and Birley high schools - while others were only partially open, like High Storrs and Meadowhead.

Chapeltown and Crystal Peaks libaries closed but the city council did not release details of the services affected, saying only it ‘hoped’ to deliver as many as possible.

A panel was yesterday due to examine business plans submitted by community groups to run the libraries relinquished from council control but had to be put on hold.

Martin Wragg, a GMB branch official representing council staff, said the parks, housing, adult social care and planning departments would all have been ‘majorly disrupted.

He added: “Morale is at rock bottom as people have been facing cuts and cuts to all the services for years now.”

Sheffield firefighters, who involved in a long-running dispute over changes to their pensions, said they only went on strike as a ‘last resort’.

The service was severely depleted between 10am and 7pm.

Dennis Roebuck, who works at Darnall Road fire station, said: “We don’t think it will make a difference but what do we do, roll over and let them do what they want?

“We are made to feel that we are letting the public down - none of us want to strike.”

A lively hour of speeches by union leaders at Barkers Pool also hailed the South Yorkshire freedom riders.

Rod Padley, of Unison, said: “We need to send a message to this Government that we are not going away.”

Ian Bartholomew, of the PCS, said: “We need to work together.

“We need to build for more action and a general strike.”