Hundreds of public sector workers came together in Derry yesterday to hear warnings that government policies are plunging people towards poverty and despair.
Union representatives issued a stark warning during the lunch-time rally at Guildhall Square that the industrial action witnessed across the city yesterday will be repeated right through into the Autumn.
Hundreds of thousands of workers across the north and in Britain downed tools and took to the streets yesterday in protest over the government’s 1% pay increase proposal.
In Derry hundreds of people manned picket lines right across the city, with leisure centres, libraries, the Housing Executive offices, museums, play parks and recycling centres all forced to shut down for the day.
Yesterday afternoon a lone piper led representatives from each of the unions as they marched from Dale’s Corner in the Waterside across Craigavon Bridge, through thew town centre and on to the Guildhall.
On arriving through Shipquay Gate, the crowds were welcomed with cheers and claps from hundreds more workers and supporters who had gathered there in advance.
Explaining why the action was taking place Liam Gallagher, Secretary of Derry Trades Council, said: “Workers who are under the NJC pay remit have been offered 1% this year. We had a 1% offer last year. For the three years previous to that we had a pay freeze. This in real terms mean they had a reduction of 13.5%.
“For low paid workers- and many, many public sector workers are on the lower pay brackets- that represents a massive cut and had plunged many workers into the category of the working poor. Workers have decided they can no longer sustain that.”
He also vowed: “This is a first stage of industrial action but we intend to carry this through into the Autumn until workers get a decent cost of living pay rise.”
Alan Law, NIPSA Regional Organiser, said that what the government was offering was effectively a contemptible increase of 7p an hour.
Speaking from the stage at the Guildhall, Mr Law said:
“We need to send this message to the employer that today is the start of our dispute and we will continue to fight until a reasonable and respectable pay offer is put on the table.
“Anybody who is expecting anybody to be fobbed off with 1%, 7p an hour is in Cloud Cuckooland.”
There were cheers from the crowd as successive speakers vowed that newly announced government plans to change employment law, which the union reps said would make strike action virtually impossible, would be met with vigorously opposition.
Ann Donnelly, representing UNISON, said: “I think we have to take a stand today and say enough is enough. Since the coalition went in we have had a 20% pay cut. People are struggling, people are even suicidal because of the way the wages won’t stretch to meet the bills. People are in danger of losing their houses.”
Gareth Scott, Regional Organiser with Unite, said there had been an overwhelming response to the strike by staff at Derry City Council and great support from the public on Derry.
“Over 400,000 workers in local government across the UK are paid below £15,000 for working for local government,” he said. “Many earn just above the national minimum wage. Indeed, the lowest point on the pay spine had to be deleted in October 2013 as it fell below the national minimum wage. That’s a disgrace.”
Rounding off the speeches, NUJ veteran trade unionist and civil rights activist Eamonn McCann said the outlook was bleak for workers unless they united together.
He said: “After generations when we expected the next generation coming along to be a bit better than the one that went before in terms of level of life that was available to them, we now for the first time in 150 years are in a situation where the kids growing up as things stand can look forward to being less well off than their parents were. That’s a damnable disgrace in a society with the wealth creation potential we have here.”
Mr McCann said there were more trade union members across the north that the Loyal Orders combined, and that they were a force to be reckoned with when they banded together.