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Strikes in Wrexham today… and zero carbon transportation

vg | 24.04.2008 20:20 | Ecology | Workers' Movements

Report on a picket at the Department of Work and Pensions, the NUT strike, and an attempt to reclaim the streets with a shopping trolley.

Six striking workers and a dog
Six striking workers and a dog

Look, no petrol.
Look, no petrol.

28 schools in the Wrexham area were closed today and another 11 partially closed as a result of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) strike. Rallies around the country were called jointly by the NUT, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and others. A rally was held in Queens Square, Wrexham, but staff from the local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) office reported that ‘no-one knew about it’, which won’t have helped the numbers, around 40-50 in total, mainly teachers.

There was a small picket of striking PCS union members outside the DWP office this morning (pictured). The picket is normally joined by the office manager, checking no-one’s being ‘intimidated’ as they arrive for work, but you can only do that job when the sun’s shining; it had been pissing down and he was staying inside in the warm.

Today’s picket was just one in a long series of one-day strikes called by PCS in its continuing dispute with the government over a pay offer well below the level of inflation – capped at 1% a year for the next 3 years, and staff already at the top of their wage bands will not get a rise at all this year.

The strikes in Wrexham usually result in 80% of staff staying away from work – although apparently some of these take the newish management option of a day’s unpaid leave, which means they’re not included in the strike figures. Management keeps the office open by bussing in non-union or non-striking staff from smaller jobcentres to plug the gaps as necessary, while electronic and telephone work can be passed on to other centres. In other words, the strikes aren’t hurting very much. I don’t expect the government would care about delays in paying jobseekers allowance or awarding pension credits in any case.

It’s the usual story of government insisting that inflation can only be kept in check by keeping the pay levels of the workers down, while not being nearly so careful with its own pay and spending recklessly on all sorts of other stuff - like bailing out the banking industry and investing billions in the arms trade for instance. MPs did – under pressure – accept a 1.9% pay rise this year, but their basic salary is over £60,000 before their allowances (nearly £5,000 of which require no receipts to be produced) and most of them could do with tightening their belts a bit, while some DWP workers are paid as little as £12,500 a year, with over half earning less than £17,700.

It was all a bit depressing on the picket line, but at least the rain had stopped. Just as the sun started to emerge from the black clouds, something that wasn’t a car drove past. Headed for a band practice – or maybe planning to entertain their teachers at the rally in town, three young lads were pushing a shopping trolley stacked high with amps down the middle of the road - just the thing for the job, way, way cooler than a battered old Transit, and the cars behind were having to wait. It made my day.

Reclaim the streets, lads! The future is carbon zero.