BIN men, teachers, firefighters, teaching assistants and other council workers held a mass walkout over pay yesterday — as they joined the biggest national strike in decades.
More than 200 workers marched on a litter strewn Victoria Square — a sign of the lack of street cleaners working — and then travelled to Manchester to take part in further demonstrations.
Years of pay freezes followed by a one per cent pay rise offer took their toll as hundreds of local government workers walked out in the strike called by Unison, GMB and Unite, forcing libraries to close and council offices to remain shut.
Bins in Bolton were also left unemptied.
The National Union of Teachers and the Fire Brigades Union also walked out yesterday as part of their ongoing clash with the Government over changes to pay and pensions.
Bernie Gallagher, secretary of the Bolton-branch of Unison said: “After four years of austerity which has seen 400,000 council jobs lost, 14,000 in Bolton alone, where pay has reduced by 20 per cent in real terms — workers are saying enough is enough.
“The strike is the manifestation of the frustration and anger our members feel about the sustained attack on pay and pensions that has paid havoc with living standards.”
Joint union pickets and protests took place in Le Mans Crescent, Wellsprings and Paderborn House in the town centre with lines drawn outside Castle Hill Centre, Wellington Yard, Mayor Street Depot, and Breightmet Health Centre.
Planning enforcement officer, Matt Kilsby, aged 32, from Halliwell, said: “The cost of living is going up, and we are getting a one per cent pay increase after four years of pay freezes and below inflation rise.
“Low pay means the state has to subsidise people through benefits, which costs more in the long-run, most people who are claiming housing benefit work.”
Striking workers marched through the town centre, waving flags and carrying placards.
Mrs Gallagher told the rally in Victoria Square: “In local government two thirds of the workforce earns less than £21,000.
“Council reserves have risen by £2.6 billion in the last year alone.
“I would like to send a message to the Labour Group who have failed to send a message of support.
“And I would like to send a message to David Cameron who wants to bring in legislation to have a minimum turnout in union ballots. ‘You have not been elected’.
“He started off his austerity measures by saying ‘We are all in this together’. You don’t hear him saying that now because he knows that we know it was always a load of rubbish.”
Healthcare workers will be balloted over the summer, making the staging of general strike a very real prospect in the autumn.
Bolton’s three MPs sent messages of support, with Yasmin Qureshi, who represents Bolton South East, attending.
She said: “Since the Tory-led coalition came to power in 2010 we have seen the Government’s plan for the future of Bolton and the rest of the UK.
“They have disproportionately cut funding to our local authority while Cameron and his cronies sit back and enjoy the rewards of their private sector chums.”
The majority of schools in Bolton were closed as teachers walked out for the fourth time in a long running row over pay and pensions.
Pickets were held outside schools before the members of the National Union of Teachers joined the mass rally.
Secretary of the Bolton-branch of the National Union of Teachers, Julia Simpkins said: “We are fighting for the education of our children. The children of Bolton deserve the best education we can give them.
“We will be back in September, October, November, as long as it takes for Gove to hold meaningful talks.”
Drama teacher at Turton School, Jeanette Bimpson, said: “I love my job, I love coming into school. I run the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and give up my spare time and Michael Gove wants to replace us with unqualified teachers. My time is now being spent on bureaucracy which does not help the children.”
Picket lines were also held at council offices across Bolton.
Sean Warren, convenor and member of GMB was picketing at the Mayor Street Depot.
He said: “The general cost of living has gone up but our wages haven’t. It’s time that we had a pound more an hour, which is not excessive. We are not rewarded for the work we do.”
Andrea Egan, assistant branch secretary and member of Unison, picketing at Castle Hill Centre, said: “We are not happy about being on strike — we are unhappy that we are leaving people without services. But if we don’t stand up and fight we won’t get anywhere.”
Garry Scott, senior child services steward and member of Unison, added: “MPs are giving themselves an 11 per cent rise while we are losing money.
“I have three kids to look after and we are living a hand to mouth existence. I have to borrow from family regularly just to put food on the table. The cost of living has gone up but our wage hasn’t.”
Joan Pritchard, aged 61, from Deane, who has worked for the local authority for 30 years, said: “Members are losing a full days’ pay in taking this action, but that pales into insignificance given the 20 per cent loss we have had in the past four years.”