Picket lines across the country relayed back that more than 80% of the specialists and professionals represented by Prospect stayed away from work in the nationwide day of action called by their union against the Government’s attack on public sector pensions.
Strike action by at least 26,000 Prospect members interrupted, delayed or stopped work at more than 400 locations ranging from Plymouth to Aberdeen, from Lowestoft to Carlisle.
Paul Noon, General Secretary, toured picket lines in London in the morning and reported “extraordinary high levels of support for the action” from both members and the general public. Standing outside the House of Commons, where parliamentary staff including Hansard reporters and sub-editors were on strike, he said:
“The turnout today shows a massive degree of backing for the stand taken by the unions that there must be a fair deal on pensions leading to a negotiated settlement.
“On top of that, George Osborne’s action yesterday in slapping a 1% pay curb on public servants for another two years has upset people more than anything I have seen in 35 years as a trade unionist.
“People who have never been on strike before are coming out today in droves and saying: the way public servants are being treated is simply wrong, unfair and unworthy of any Government.”
Today’s action affected professionals working in 16 Government departments, 41 executive agencies, and 51 non-departmental bodies. In Wales, the Senedd in Cardiff, home of the Welsh Government, was closed; and in Scotland only two committees of the Parliament were sitting.
In UK departments, the biggest impact was felt in the Ministry of Defence where the union’s 7,000 members, chiefly engineers and scientists, took action in Devonport naval base, Plymouth and at Portsmouth naval base; MOD’s procurement HQ at Abbey Wood, Bristol; the Faslane base near the Clyde, home of the UK nuclear deterrent; MOD Main Building in Whitehall; and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Portsdown, Portsmouth and Fort Halstead, Kent.
Other departments affected were Transport, where enforcement work on the road and at the 83 heavy goods vehicle testing stations in the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency was severely curtailed or stopped; HM Prison Service, where psychologists, managers and specialists picketed prisons around the country; Defra, where animal health, food and environmental protection work was sharply reduced at laboratories and institutes like the Food and Environmental Research Agency at Sand Hutton, York; and Business Innovation and Skills, where industrial action by Met Office scientists and presenters meant truncated weather forecasts had to be read out by BBC presenters.
In all these areas the union negotiated special arrangements to ensure emergency cover and protect health and safety.
Among heritage bodies taking action were the British Museum, where most public galleries were closed; the British Library, where only one reading room was open to the public; the National Gallery, where the Leonardo exhibition stayed open but other galleries closed; the Museum of London, where all galleries were shut; the Victoria & Albert Museum, where several galleries closed; and the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, where school outings and daytime shows were cancelled but some galleries stayed open.
Other public bodies reporting strong support for the strike action included the Highways Agency, where its normal quota of cars on the road was reduced by 70%; Ordnance Survey, Southampton where almost all work stopped after pickets took up position at every entrance from 6.30am; the Health and Safety Executive, where inspectors and scientists all over the country joined demonstrations; all institutes of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; the nuclear research programme at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, where both its large tokamaks (ring-shaped magnetic confinement devices) were taken offline and put on standby; Edinburgh, where a joint protest was held by members of the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage, and the National Library for Scotland was closed.
Also among those affected was the Office of Rail Regulation, Manchester and London; the Big Lottery Fund, Birmingham; Natural Environment Research Council institutes; Food Standards Agency, London; National Measurement Office, Teddington; Planning Inspectorate, Bristol; Serious Fraud Office, London.