Up to 400,000 public sector workers were on strike today against the government’s planned changes to their pension schemes. PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka branded the changes “deeply unpopular” and “robbery.”

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude claimed the current pension scheme is “unfair” and said talks with unions would not be reopened in face of strike action.

The unions taking action are the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Unite, The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA),  the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), the Immigration Service Union (ISU) and University and College Union (UCU) in post-1992 universities and Further Education colleges.

36,000 off-duty police officers have also taken part in a London march today organised by the Police Federation, according to Metropolitan Police estimates. The marchers carried slogans condemning the 20% cut in police budgets and the outsourcing of some policing roles to private contractor G4S.

The marchers were met with a mixed response. Some union picketers and members of Occupy London cheered them on, others heckled them with chants of “police protect the Tories.” Some activists held a counter-protest against “police brutality.”

Photo credit: N. Hall, creative commons license

The Pensions Dispute

The government argues the current state of public sector pensions “unsustainable” as life expectancy increases, citing of a report written by Lord Hutton, a former Labour minister. It wants to raise the retirement age and contributions workers make into their schemes.

There are also plans to change the method by which pensions rise in line with inflation. This would mean switching from Retail Price Index (RPI) to Consumer Price Index (CPI). The later is almost always lower.

The strike today is only the latest in a series of actions by public sector unions. Last year 2 million workers went on strike against the changes and 250,000 attended the “March for the Alternative” in London.

In a press release the civil service union PCS asserted its members are “being forced to work longer, and pay more, for smaller pensions”, while a UCU press release argues “it is simply not fair for ordinary families to be bearing the brunt of the government’s cuts while those at the top get tax cuts.”

Last year Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the strikes as “irresponsible and wrong.”

Far-Right Oppose Picket in Bottle

Several far-right activists were involved in an incident at the Triad Building in Bootle in which they confronted the picketing workers from PCS.

A PCS member who was on the picket told LSMedia “they were out today for a fight and were just looking to cause aggro due to one member’s involvement in anti-fascist politics.”

He added “they are abandoning all pretense of politics, and resorting to tactics of controlling the streets.”

One man, believed to be part of the group Combined Ex-Forces, was arrested.