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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Mass walkout in council pay protest
Striking staff in Birmingham
Rallies were held around the country in protest
Bins went uncollected, schools closed and services were halted on Wednesday as up to one million council workers held their first national strike since 1979.

Workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland walked out in protest at a 3% pay offer. They want 6% but their employers are sticking to their offer and claim councils cannot afford a higher pay rise.

The government said it would not intervene in the dispute.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "We want the matter sorted out but it is a matter for the unions and local government to resolve."

Strike
Council workers picketed outside council offices

Some of the workers involved in the one-day action earn less than 10,000 a year in full time posts. They say they have seen their responsibilities rise, while pay has effectively stood still.

Picket lines were set up outside council offices and buildings and marches and rallies were held in towns and cities around the country.

More than 1,000 workers packed Birmingham's Chamberlain Square in support of the strikes and in Sheffield 23% of city council staff took part.

In York the industrial action resulted in the closure of three city car parks and 11 schools and in Cardiff more than 60 schools remained shut.

Unions said emergency cover was provided for sick and vulnerable people despite the action.

'Intimidation'

Local authority employers say the unions' claim for a pay rise of 6% is equivalent to 80 a year on council tax bills and is therefore unaffordable without substantial job losses and cuts in services.

They also say most workers do not want to strike - claiming only 25% of those eligible to vote backed industrial action, while many staff do not belong to any union.

But unions have hit back by accusing councils of "widespread intimidation" of workers ahead of the strike.

Jobs affected
School catering
Caretakers
Classroom assistants
Social workers
Library staff
Architects/surveyors
Refuse collectors
The Transport and General Workers Union said workers across the country were being threatened with privatisation, redundancy, pay and pension cuts and disciplinary action if they joined the walkout.

Conciliation service Acas has been briefed by both side about dispute and is keeping in "close contact" with them, a spokesman told BBC News Online.

But a spokesman for the GMB union said the employers had refused to attend a meeting between the union and Acas on Monday.

"We begged them to go," he said.

'Dignity'

"We are desperate to get them to Acas - but they are not prepared to talk."

But a spokesman for the Employers' Organisation for Local Government (EOLG) told BBC News Online: "We are always willing to talk on the basis of the 3% offer - but the unions have decided to go on strike rather than go to talks."


This strike, although regrettable, is not going to alter the arithmetic

Charles Nolda
Employers' Organisation for Local Government

Union officials said there would still be solid support for the first one-day stoppage of several planned for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, told the BBC's Breakfast programme: "We did not realise the strength of feeling in the local authority.

"The government has got to take action. It has to treat people with dignity and respect."

Charles Nolda, executive director of the EOLG, said local authorities could not afford to make increases higher than 3%.

"This strike, although regrettable, is not going to alter the arithmetic," he said.

The dispute at a glance
Management Unions
Offering a 3% rise, which for the lowest-paid workers is 15p an hour Demanding a 6% rise
Local authorities say 6% would put 80 on council tax Some workers earn less than 10,000
Only 25% of workers backed the strike Unions say workers have been intimidated
Local authorities involved are in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, badly hit areas include Newcastle and Manchester Strikers are members of Unison, TGWU, and the GMB, they include dinner ladies, caretakers, social workers, classroom assistants, library staff, architects, refuse collectors

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ben Brown
"The workers say they are fighting for respect"
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"These low paid workers see themselves as a forgotten army"
Jack Dromey, TGWU
"This is the biggest strike in a generation"

Public pay battles

Leadership battles

Labour and the unions

Analysis

FORUM
See also:

17 Jul 02 | UK
17 Jul 02 | England
17 Jul 02 | UK
14 Jul 02 | UK
12 Jul 02 | Education
06 Jul 02 | Business
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