HUNDREDS of striking workers marched through Aylesbury town centre this morning holding placards, chanting, and sounding air horns as part of a national walkout over pensions.
Teachers, social workers, back-office police staff, health workers, probation workers and council staff marched from Kingsbury to the railway club where union leaders were applauded as they gave speeches warning the government that more strikes could follow.
The walkout closed roughly 100 schools across the county, and some outpatient appointments were rescheduled at Stoke Mandeville Hospital – although patients were warned by letter beforehand about the changes.
Recycling and rubbish collections were delayed or cancelled in some parts of the Vale.
Lynn Worts, a Unison branch member for Thames Valley Police, joined fellow members outside Aylesbury Police Station from 7am before taking part in the parade through the town.
She said: “We will be paying more for less and working longer, even though the pensions scheme funding is fully sustainable for the next 20 years.
“This is not against our organisation (the police), and I think that everyone should have a fair pension in the public and private sector.”
Liz Medhurst, of the National Association of Probation Officers, took part in early morning picketing outside Aylesbury Probation Office.
She fumed: “We are here today to protest for all public services, standing in solidarity with all public service workers in the country.
“This is more than just pensions, it is a blatant attack by the government on all public services and our pensions are going to pay off the deficit caused by the bankers and not go anywhere near out pension pots.
“The local government pension scheme is completely self funding and sustainable and not burdening the taxpayer.”
Outside the Tindal Centre in Bierton Road mental health workers, nurses, occupational therapists, domestic staff such as cleaners and catering staff picketed from early morning.
Alan French, chairman of the Bucks Health Branch of Unison, said: “At the end of the day we will all pay more into our pension as a tax to provide extra money for the treasury.”
Jennifer Haskew, an NHS worker who took part in the parade through Aylesbury while playing Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up from her iPad speakers, said: “Our pensions money is going to be used to pay off the deficit, yet the average public sector pension equates to just £3,500 for a woman working in the NHS.”
Health worker Lesley Pluck said: “It’s important to be here because our pensions are being attacked.
“We work hard for it, and now they say they are going to take it away.”
Union representative for speech and language therapy services Catherine Williamson said: “Our services are being cut, we are not just here about pensions it is about the bigger picture.”
Firefighter Ricky Matthews said: “We are here to support the members of unions that are going on strike to defend their pensions.
“It is completely unfair and unjust that people are being asked to work longer and get less.”
Secretary of the Bucks county branch of Unison Penny Gray described the gathering in Kingsbury as ‘a momentous day’.
She said: “There is an awful lot of people that are really really unhappy about what the government is doing to their pensions, to their lives and their futures.
“We are good honest people and we wanted to help other people and at the end of working long and hard we are going to get a pension that is a pittance.”
NHS worker John Burns said he was ‘very impressed with the turnout’, adding: “It is nice to see such good support, I hope it sends a strong message to the government.”
Fellow health worker Ruth Harris called for ministers to see what is happening on the ground, suggesting: “Let them that are cutting us come down and do a day’s work.”
The parade through the town forced traffic to sit and wait on Friarage Road whilst striking workers proudly paraded across.
Strikers waved to the crowds who lined Market Square to watch, and handed out leaflets to explain to members of the public the reasons for their action.
Striking teacher Val Twiss said: “It is a really good turnout, and it is nice to see so many unions working together.”
During the speeches at the railway club, Annette Pryce, secretary of the Bucks branch of the National Teachers’ Union, said: “We believe that everyone should have a fair pension and we refuse to be divided between public and private sectors.
“They want to tax your pensions to pay off the deficit.”
Ruth Smith, a regional organiser for Unison, reflected that the majority of strikers were women, mostly low paid, who will be hardest hit.
She warned: “We need to make sure we are asking for fairness for women in the workplace as a whole.”
Secretary of the Bucks Health Branch of Unison Steve Bell said: “Yesterday I could retire at 66, today it is 67 and I have to work more and pay more.”
He later added: “Public sector workers do not take strike action lightly but feel how else do we get our voice heard and let people know what is happening to the services we provide.
“Waiting lists are going up, services are closing and not being replaced.
“We are unhappy with what is happening and asking us to pay more for our pensions and work longer for less is the last straw.
“Every union that has balloted has got a yes result, locally we are recruiting to the union as people want to take action and see that the unions are standing up for working people.”
Tonight at the railway club an evening solidarity rally has been organised by Bucks Save Our Services to discuss the day’s action and decide on what the next steps should be.
The meeting starts at 7.30pm (Wednesday).