Thousands take a stand on strike day

Members of NIPSA pictured at rally in support of the Public Service strike. (0112SL09) Photo: stephen Latimer
Members of NIPSA pictured at rally in support of the Public Service strike. (0112SL09) Photo: stephen Latimer

Thousands of people gathered at Guildhall Square earlier this week to protest at the “most vicious attack on the public sector since the days of Margaret Thatcher.”

Public sector workers from a number of unions joined the lunchtime rally, which was addressed by a number of trade union representatives.

They were welcomed to Guildhall Square by a group playing drums under a banner stating “solidarity is strength” and members of the Nipsa union marched down Shipquay Street chanting “fight back, fight back.”

Many schools and local government offices closed and bus and rail services were cancelled for the day, as thousands of public sector workers set up picket lines outside their place of work to protest at proposed changes to pensions.

Addressing the vast crowd on Wednesday, Liam Gallagher of the Derry Trades Council said that “by turning out today in our thousands, we are going to stop this and take no more.”

He told the strikers that while they are being told the public sector is over-sized, the “reality is that the public sector provides the very fabric of the society we live in.”

“Day in and day out, the jobs you do and the professional way you do them provide the very basis on which civilised society is based.”

Mr Gallagher added that further rallys will be planned in the “days, weeks and months ahead.”

Nuala Connolly from Unison told the crowds the proposed changes to pensions and further pay freezes represent the “most vicious attack on our public sector since the days of our old friend Margaret Thatcher.”

“We are expected to work longer, pay more into our pensions and receive less. We are also here today about pay freezes, pay cuts and redundancies.”

Gareth Scott of Unite said the strike and rally is about “much, much more than pensions. It is about social injustice.”

“We have a society at the moment which looks after the rich and takes money from the poor. This movement has to also be about the unfairness we have in society.”

Mr Scott added: “The message goes out today to this government, working class people will not stand by and see us going down the path of greed and injustice.”

“We will stand up and tell them to change their direction and if they do not we will force them to.”

A number of local MLAs and councillors were in the crowd supporting the public sector workers.

Speaking after the rally, SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood commended everyone who took part in the strike and said a strong message had been sent to the British government.

Mr Eastwood said: “The large turnout in Guildhall Square, and at picket lines across the city, were an indication of the depth of feeling against the holistic attacks embarked upon by the Westminster government against our public services.

“A policy which prioritises the downgrading of public sector wages and their pensions will not serve the economic interests of this society or its workers, public or private.”