HUNDREDS of striking teachers, nurses, civil servants and council workers paraded through Chester city centre to protest at cuts to their pensions.
A staggering 120 schools were closed or partially closed across West Chester representing about 75% of the total as part of yesterday’s national day of action involving up to two million workers.
The Countess of Chester Hospital remained open but with a reduced number of planned operations.
Most libraries were closed, bin collections in Ellesmere Port did not take place, police officers were drafted into perform staff roles like call handling and Chester Crown Court only opened one court room.
More than 400 protestors with vuvuzelas took part in a colourful and lively march through Chester followed by a rally at the Guildhall with speakers gathered behind a ‘West Cheshire Against the Cuts’ banner.
Organiser Sam Oxford, secretary of West Cheshire Trades Council, who works at the Chester DVLA office, was among the strikers.
She told the media: “The people on the streets were clapping us and cheering us as we go. I think the public are there supporting us. And I think we got our message across that we will not put up with this and we will fight back.
“The government wants us to pay more for our pensions, work longer and get less at the end so we can’t afford it, it’s as simple as that.
“The Chancellor put a 1% cap on public sector pay for the next two years and that, as well as an extra 3% contributions to your pension, people just haven’t got the money.”
Asked who should pay for the financial black-hole, Miss Oxford added: “The bankers that got us into this mess. There’s £120bn of taxes that go uncollected – and yet they are cutting jobs in HMRC – and a Robin Hood tax they could put on financial transactions.”
The Government argues the changes are necessary because the cost of funding public sector pensions is ‘unsustainable’ as people are living longer.
At Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said he thought the Government had made a ‘very reasonable, very fair offer to public sector workers’.
“I don’t want to see any strikes, I don’t want to see schools closed, I don't want to see problems at our borders, but this government has to make responsible decisions,” he said.
A Cheshire Police spokeswoman said: “Lunchtime protests took place at locations in Cheshire. Around 100 people gathered at the Memorial Square, Earle Street, in Crewe to stage a static protest, which dispersed without incident around 1.30pm.
“A similar event in Chester, which saw around 400-500 people parade through the city centre has concluded at the Guildhall with a series of speeches and workshops ongoing until later today.”
“A policing presence was visible at all the protest marches, and local officers have acknowledged the peaceful and good natured approach of those engaged in the organised protest marches.”