All the action from today's nationwide strike – and PMQs – with politics.co.uk's live blog.
By Ian Dunt Follow @IanDunt
09:44 – Morning all. It's the day of what will likely be the biggest industrial action in Britain since the winter of discontent. We'll be covering the goings on around the country, dropping back to Westminster for PMQs at noon and generally keeping you up to breast with all the figures, events, opinions and developments as the day goes on. As they say to writers: start with what you know. Well the underground entrance to parliament had several workers outside, maintaining the picket line and handing out leaflets. Outside my window (just to the right of Big Ben if you're looking at it from Parliament Square) there is a man on a megaphone making a serious amount of noise. Finally, all our canteen facilities are shut, after the workers there went on strike. Luckily for me, there is a coffee machine, which I am using for the first time. I'll tell you how that goes when it cools down.
09:57 – You can read our news story from this morning here. It's also worth reading this news piece from yesterday, outlining George Osborne's proposals for public sector workers in the autumn statement. There was a real sense that the chancellor, who is also election coordinator for the Conservatives, had given up on the public sector vote yesterday, as he piled more pain on workers just a day before the action was due to take place.
09:59 – Here's Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who leads on pension negotiations with chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, on today's strike: "Today’s strike is inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible, especially while talks are ongoing. Responsibility for any disruption which people may experience today lies squarely with union leaders. We have listened to the concerns of public sector workers and that is why at the beginning of this month we put an improved offer on the table. The offer ensures that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available while also being fair and affordable to taxpayers. While discussions are continuing I would urge public sector workers to look at the offer for themselves rather than listening to the rhetoric of their union leaders. These are the sort of pensions that few in the private sector can enjoy. This morning, I want to reassure the public that we have done everything we can to minimise disruption. Rigorous contingency planning is in place across all sectors to try and limit the impact of the strike action and to ensure that key public services remain open. However, we now estimate today that around three quarters of schools in England will be closed or partially closed today. Council services such as refuse collection, street cleaning and libraries are also likely to be affected. For information about public services I would urge people to visit www.direct.gov.uk/strikes. We expect that passengers may face longer than normal waiting times at airports and ports, however, robust contingency plans are in place. Overnight the borders have been managed without any major problems, and are currently operating normally. There have already been several seizures this morning, for example 1.5 kg of cocaine seized at Stansted. There will also be an impact on health services and some organisations have had to reschedule elective surgery and outpatients appointments so that urgent cases can be prioritised. But, emergency and critical care services will be operating normally and 999 calls will be responded to as usual. Let me say again that the timing of this strike is indefensible and wrong. Union leaders should be responding in a responsible manner to reach agreement. A strike will not achieve anything other than causing inconvenience to hard working people at a time when we are trying to get the economy back on its feet.”
10:20 – Unite is making a lot of noise about the democratic validity of its strike vote, which have been criticised extensively by MPs. The union's three main aggregate ballots of health, civil service and local authority workers saw 75% of Unite members vote in favour of action on a turnout of 31%, its press release says. The union is massive, representing workers in the NHS, local government, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), further education, government departments and not-for-profit organisations. Its leaders are therefore all over the place. General secretary Len McCluskey will be at Victoria Embankment after midday for a rally and march. It also has assistant general secretaries addressing marches in Southampton, Brighton and Bristol. There are also officials in Sheffield, Glasgow and Birmingham.
10:28 – Meanwhile, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) says Michael Gove's extremely combative speech attacking the strikers prompted a record number of applications for membership. Almost 300 people joined the union on Monday, which was more than joined during either of the first two weeks of the month. There has been a steady increase in union membership in November, but yesterday’s spike was more than double the previous working day’s total of 143. Here's general secretary Sally Hunt: “Despite being possibly the only minister to have stood on a picket line, Michael Gove is still symptomatic of this government’s complete lack of understanding of trade unions and working people. Educators are far from mindless militants and to suggest they want to inconvenience anybody is incredibly insulting. They would rather be in the classroom than on the picket line tomorrow, but they will fight to save their pensions." Rather enjoyably, you can see a picture of Michael Gove on a picket line while working at Aberdeen's Press and Journal. He hasn't changed much. He still has the same superfluous range of expressions.
10:38 – Anti-poverty campaigners from War on Want are handing out hot drinks and food to strikers on London pickets lines. Greg Muttitt, campaigns and policy director, said: “George Osborne has said we are all in this together. In fact, his friends in the City are not paying for the crisis they caused – while Osborne himself yesterday announced tinkering around with just a tiny portion of the tax gap. The rest of us are paying the price in slashed public services, unfair pension terms and lost jobs. As an anti-poverty organisation, War on Want is proud to join these protests for a more just alternative.”
10:40 – This isn’t just a UK event – there are ripples in Europe and support from further afield. Over in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the National Garment Workers’ Federation is holding a rally in solidarity with British workers. Amirul Haque Amin, its president, said: “The federation has been fighting for the rights of garment workers in Bangladesh since 1984. We will stand with the public sector workers in the UK on 30 November in your fight against the attacks on your pensions and the cuts that your government have imposed. We know that these abuses and the programme of cuts will make thousands of you poorer as a result and as workers, we stand united against poverty wherever it is found.”
10:45 – There are protests against austerity measures in over 25 European countries today, following a call for action by the European Federation of Public Service Unions. In Portugal, trade unions are demonstrating as parliament votes on new austerity measures. France and Bulgaria are seeing national demonstrations (I always imagine national demonstrations every day in France, but that's me). Belgian trade unions are protesting outside UK and Greek embassies in solidarity with workers in both countries. Greek trade unions will hold a general strike on December 2nd, by the way.
10:53 – The Local Government Association (LGA) is laying out the efforts councils are making to maintain 'life and limb' services for vulnerable people. Mental health workers are on emergency rotas, children's residential centres are being staffed "as full as possible" and there are "constructive and on-going" talks with union officials on exceptions from strike action. Officials say refuse collection, street cleaning, funeral services and leisure services such as libraries are the worst hit services.
10:57 – Our correspondent just came in from a visit to an event by the St Stephen's entrance to parliament, where around 30 Labour MPs have had a photo call with unions leaders. He said: "The palace of Westminster is more like a museum than a parliament. It's semi-deserted. Officials are fretting about coping with security in the Commons. It's a weird half-way house situation which those who are left behind are really struggling with." The photo op was organised by the 1st Division Union, which represents the top seven grades of the civil service – from permanent secretaries down. He doesn't know if there are any permanent secretaries on strike.
11:12 – "I've been talking to cleaners today who are looking forward to a £6,000-a-year pension after 20 years of service. I don't think that's gold-plated at all," Labour backbencher Tom Blenkinsop told our correspondent. "I think Cameron needs to get into the real world, get out of his mansion house in Oxfordshire and see some real people on a picket line."
11:22 – Interesting. Dr Peter Slowe, former economic adviser to Tony Blair, has come out in favour of the strike. “One of my closest friends works for the government valuation office," he said. "He has never been on strike, but he is striking tomorrow. Why? Because he signed up years ago for a modest salary, but a decent pension, with fixed pension contributions. If I tried to change a signed deal like that with my employees, I would never get away with it. Why should the government?”
11:24 – Far less sympathetic stuff from the Taxpayers' Alliance, as you might expect. The group has released an 'online calculator' which "allows someone in the private sector to assess how their total remuneration per hour is comparable to that enjoyed by public sector workers on significantly lower salaries". I doubt whether they have controlled for skills, which is usually the statistical fallacy in these private/public comparisons, but there you go. Director Matthew Sinclair said: "It is incredibly unfair that taxpayers already struggling with the bill for the higher pay and better pensions enjoyed by public sector workers are now facing the disruption of a massive strike. Even after the proposed reforms, staff in the public sector will still get a great deal. The unions need to be more realistic and stop expecting everyone else to pay so much for public sector pensions."
11:30 – Government department press officers have replaced the 'no comment' line with 'we won't be giving a running commentary'. Instead they're relying on the ministerial statement to the Commons later. Francis Maude, however, has been giving a running commentary. We're getting new emails from them every half hour or so. He's now trying to put a sunny glow on the day's events. “I can reassure the public that we are doing all that we can to keep essential services open," he said. "Our rigorous contingency planning is in place across all sectors to limit the impact of the strike action. Early indications show it is working well and that the majority of key public services remain open." We are hearing that those dreaded 12-hour queues at Heathrow have not developed. I'm guessing so many people delayed or brought forward their journey that this would have actually been a great day to arrive.
11:35 – Most of the marches are now beginning to set off. It's a beautiful sunny winters day, in London at least, so turnout should be strong. The Met has set up a personal Twitter (@MPSOnTheStreet) account for one of its officers, who is at the head of the TUC march. "Sunny – small groups starting to form up. All friendly at present," he writes. "Just had briefing with inspectors and sergeants in my sector. Skipped breakfast – big mistake!" Spare me.
11:46 – Labour is continuing to distance itself from the strike. Business secretary Chuka Umunna just told the Daily Politics: "Strikes should not be going ahead. I can't support mass disruption."
11:59 – PMQs kicks off in a minute or so. If you think you've seen typos so far, well just you wait.
12:00 – Cameron starts by praising an MP for his Movember moustache. Miliband is up.
12:04 – Jeers for the Labour leader are killed off when he pays tribute to a British soldier killed in Afghanistan. Bravely, Miliband leads on strike. He cites a teacher who didn't strike last time, but did this time. "Why doe so many decent public sector workers feel the government simply isn't listening?" Miliband asks. Cameron says the reforms to public sector pensions are essential. "They are going on strike at a time when negotiations are still underway." He quotes Miliband saying the June strikes were wrong when negotiations are going on. Why has Miliband changed his mind?
12:06 – "[The government] declared negotiations at an end four weeks ago. They made their final offer," Miliband shouts. He says Cameron is "privately delighted" the unions have walked into his trap. "He's been spoiling for this fight." He says many low paid workers are facing an increased tax rise. Cameron says his party is paid for the by the unions. "What he's just told the House is completely and utterly untrue." Cameron says there were meetings yesterday and would be again tomorrow. "Today he backs the strikes because he's irresponsible, left-wing and weak."
12:08 – Miliband says he won't "demonise the dinner lady" – people who earn in a year what the chancellor spends on a week's skiing holiday. Again he accuses Cameron of being privately delighted. Strong performance from both men today. Miliband says the private sector pays for his plan too. A family on minimum wage will lose a week and half's wages as a result of yesterday's autumn statement. "I do not welcome these strikes one bit," Cameron insists. Again he quotes Hutton, the Labour man who wrote the report on public sector pensions. Carmon slightly on the back foot here. "This government has to make responsible decisions."
12:11 – "What we are seeing today is a party opposite in the pocket of trade union leaders, who ask their permission before crossing a picket line," Cameroon continues. Bercow tells off Cameron for taking far too long. "I'll wait for his next trade union sponsored question and then give an answer," Cameron replies. Miliband: "I'm proud millions of working people in this country support our party – better that than Lord Ashcroft." Amazing stuff. Miliband goes back to low paid private sector workers. "It is true, it is a reality. He doesn't understand his own policy. He couldn't explain or justify what he did to everyone on low pay with the miserable deal to cut a million pounds from tax credits. They have no explanation for why they are doing that."
12:13 – Asked about unemployment forecasts from the OBR, Cameron issues a sunnier approach than one might expect. Cameron says it's Labour that got rid of the 10p tax. That's an antique attack. He lists coalition achievements for the poor. Labour has a record of "attacking the working poor", Cameron says. Miliband: "He couldn't answer the questions because he's too embarrassed by the truth." Gove is incandescent with rage. "The education secretary should calm down, Mr Speaker," Miliband suggests. He lists OBR numbers on unemployment. "He's another Tory prime minister for whom unemployment is a price worth paying." Now he attacks the coalition's inability to balance the books by 2015. "He has failed," Miliband says. Cameron accuses him of "utter illiteracy".
12:17 – "His plan failed. He'll never ever be able to say we're all in this together," Miliband ends. Cameron says Miliband is on the side of those who would "disrupt our schools" Startling anger in the Commons today – real passion. "He is being tested and he's been showing he's weak, left-wing and irresponsible". Again, Cameron resorts to his previous pre-prepared line. That repetition shows he was slightly flustered by the exchange. That was one of the most substantial and convincing exchanges between the two men since Miliband became Labour leader, mostly because there were very clear political differences being expressed. All in all, I would hand it to Miliband, although Cameron put in a strong, convincing performance. The mere fact Miliband went head in for the most contentious issue available is worth a couple of points at least. Final score: Cameron: 3 Miliband: 4.
12:22 – Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, makes Etonians look like a bit of rough) is so unspeakably posh, so entirely disconnected from anything that resembles Britain, that it's a wonder they don't have him stuffed and put in a museum. Did the PM come into politics to sack 750,000 public sector workers? a Labour MP asks. It visibly angers Cameron. Miliband and Balls are sat in front of Cameron doing a 'sit down' sign with their hands, whispering 'calm down'. Cameron makes more jokes about the unions.
12:25 – Cameron declares the strikes are a "damp squib" – part of the traditional PR war you get with these things. It also somewhat robs Maude of his moment in the spotlight. There's a ministerial statement on the strike right after PMQs. (I'll be sticking to the Commons for that). Andrew Rosindell (Con, snide) wants a pledge the government will protect loyal subjects of remaining British territories. Julie Hilling (Lab, frowner) says the poor are being made to pay for his government's failure. Cameron calls her 'he', presumably by mistake, and says they're paying for Labour overspending. You know the drill.
12:30 – Again Cameron shows he seems to have given up public sector votes. He praises private sector workers for paying for salaries they do not receive. Mark Spencer (Con, tedious) earns a chance at Cabinet with a planted question on whether strikers should be taking action "while negotiations are ongoing". What a marvellous independent mind the man has! Frank Roy (Lab, should sell sausage rolls) accuses the government of demonising trade unions. "I know people feel strongly about this but we have the responsibility to deliver an affordable public sector pension system", Cameron says.
12:33 – Cameron has gone very far with his anti-strike message today. Too far? He's certainly on the line and he's sacrificing many votes. Combined with Osborne's proposals yesterday, there's a real sense of the government focusing towards the right. It's worth noting that Nick Clegg cut an uncomfortable and grave figure during the session. Bercow is letting questions go on. A Tory MP is angry that Labour MPs asked "permission" from the GMB union "to be here today" (in other words: to cross the picket line). Cameron says it's "genuinely baffling" that Miliband is speaking on behalf of trade union leaders. "Even Kinnock wasn't as bad as that," Cameron shouts.
12:36 – Roger Williams (LD, too many rich dinners) asks about the corporation tax cut, allowng a calmer end to the session. Cameron praises the "magnificent specimen under his nose" (Movember again). OK, we're on the Cabinet Office statement.
12:38 – Maude is basically quoting that email I read from earlier. He goes over how wonderful the pension offer is and the need for reform – I'm sure you can imagine. Behind him Alexander looks, as ever, entirely out of his depth. Sir George Young, to the other side, is, as ever, only vaguely present, staring up at the ceiling, seemingly blissful. There are rumours, by the way, that the PM's press secretary is manning the borders at Heathrow Airport. Maude is still regurgitating general arguments.
12:41 – "I was surprised to see the leader of the opposition repeating that [the government is not negotiating] today," Maude says. Balls angers Maude by asking whether he has met with the TUC since the deal. Maude says the answer is yes. Behind him, someone shouts "shut up". Bercow slaps Balls on the wrist for asking from his seat. "I appeal to members to stop doing it and if it happens I suggest the minister blithely ignores it", Bercow says. Maude: "Talks are very much alive. They are intensive and they are making good progress."
12:44 – There's a chasm between Cameron's angry drama and Maude's sleep-inducing statement. He says there are 135,000 civil servants on strike. Elective surgery has been cancelled in many health service centres. There's "some disruption" in the local government area. "I have huge respect for the dedicated women and men who keep our public services running. They deserve to be able to retire on decent pensions. They deserve no less," he ends. Labour's Jon Trickett, shadow Cabinet Office minister, stands to respond.
12:47 – Trickett relies on Miliband's old performance, rather than his more passionate offering today. He's saying strikes are always a failure etc etc. Now he says the Tories have mishandled negotiations, saying the unions were "tough but fair" and that Labour had managed to get through these talks without any industrial disputes when in office. "This imposition had nothing whatsoever to do with Hutton [review into public sector pensions]," he argues. I'm going to admit I've never seen Trickett before. This is unfortunate given his job description and mine. He is entirely unremarkable and doing a less-than-mediocre job.
12:51 – Bercow ticks him off for not asking questions. Balls tries to encourage him. "How many people are staffing borders today? Can he assure us there is no relaxation of border checks." That was a dreadful response, very wet and unconvincing. Maude: "It's easy to tell from the tone of that response who pays for his party." Maude's pre-prepared response rang false, primarily because the tone didn't sound like that at all. It sounded like someone who had just woken up.
12:57 – Watching Maude and Trickett debate is like sitting in an empty room made only of wood. Really struggled to pay attention to that one and there was nothing to report. OK, we're going to take a short break from our coverage now for lunch, but we'll be back shortly with information on the marches and the continuing effect of the strike on services.
13:02 – Oh, but before I go here is our correspondent's sketch of PMQs.
15:16 – Hello again and sorry for the prolonged break. While we’ve been away, reports have come in of the various marches. You don’t really expected any trouble when protests are union-organised, but there have been a few difficulties in Hackney, where two people are reported to have been arrested and 30 detained. Apparently a female community support officer was assaulted during clashes with strikers at a bus garage. This is all unconfirmed – I'll bring you more when I get it. Police have also apparently gained stop and search powers in the Moorgate area of London under Section 60.
15:23 – Interesting stuff from the TUC, who have highlighted a section of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) report concluding the gap between CPI and RPI inflation will increase to 1.4%. That sounds technical and boring, but it means public sector workers will have their pensions cut even further than previously thought. The government plan to up-rate public sector pensions from the RPI measure of inflation to the CPI measure – one the main points of contention in their negotiations with unions. This move has also had a serious effect on the private sector, where many employers have followed the government's lead. The difference between the two figures was thought to be somewhere between 0.7% and 0.9%, but according to the OBR it’s more like 1.4%. Unions are likely to jump on it, not just as evidence of more dirty 'small print' tricks, but also as a way of proving to private workers that their concerns are shared across the sectors.
15:25 – Here's the Met statement on that disturbance in Hackney: "Officers working on the policing operation for today's day of action responded to an incident at Hackney bus garage at approx 07.45hrs where a female PCSO was assaulted. Two people were then arrested for assault on police, they remain in custody. The PCSO did not require hospital treatment. At 10.00hrs a group of approximately 30 people were detained in nearby Dalston Lane, E8, to prevent a breach of the peace. They remain in Dalston Lane. A section 60 is in place in the EC2 area. This has been put in place based on intelligence."
15:30 – Here's our updated news story for the afternoon.
15:32 – Lots of angry rhetoric over whether negotiations are still taking place. Cameron pretty much said Miliband was lying in the Commons earlier for suggesting negotiations died after the government's 'final offer'. Maude made similar points during his (utterly unnecessary) ministerial statement. A little later, Eric Pickles, local government and Benny Hill secretary, made the same point. GMB union national secretary Brian Strutton had something to say in response to that: "Mr Pickles hasn't even met the local government unions. Instead he has passed the negotiating baton to council leaders but they have told GMB and the other unions they will not be in a position to negotiate until at least the middle of next month. I can confirm there is no pension deal on the table for local government workers and categorically confirm that no negotiations are taking place. That's why we are on strike and that's why we are calling for negotiations to take place urgently and seriously."
15:37 – Looks like that situation in Dalston got properly out of control, or so the police say. Here's the latest from the Met: "Can confirm that 37 protestors detained in Dalston Lane, E8, this morning have now been arrested on suspicion of breach of the peace. All 37 protestors are adults and a dog unit attended to support officers."
15:52 – Sky News are showing images of a break-away group of UK Uncut demonstrators on the roof of Panton House in Haymarket, central London. Apparently, they think it's the office of the UK's highest paid CEO. It may well be, for all I know.
15:55 – They seem to have been arrested already. Some men in blue hard hats appear to have wrestled them to the ground. Police have created a sterile zone around the building, from what I can tell. If it gets any more chaotic down there, I'll head out. For the mean time, I'll keep tabs on it and let you know how things develop.
15:58 – Interesting assessments from this week's PMQs. Without going too far, I'd say it was a bit of a benchmark. Importantly, supporters of both parties felt their leader did well. That points to mutual incomprehension, which is also sometimes known as ideology. We knew that as soon as the financial crisis struck, we'd see more left/right politics, but it only grows slowly because of the hesitancy in political circles to ever use the terms 'left' or 'right'. Interestingly, many quite senior commentators were sceptical of Cameron's use of the term 'left-wing' as an insult. Steve Richard, of the Independent, tweeted this: "At PMQs Cameron compared Ed Miliband to Kinnock. Very revealing. Cameron is looking to the 80s. Won't work now – even if he seemed at ease playing Thatcher role."
16:16 – The data on school closures has finally come in via a written ministerial statement from Michael 'let's go to war' Gove. The government is much more honest about the disruption than it was this morning, saying there has been "a severe impact on schools across the country". The Department of Education (DoE) said: "There are 21,476 state-funded schools in England (maintained schools, academies, free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools). 13349 (62%) were reported to be closed. 2951 (14%) were reported to be partially open and 3351 (16%) were reported to be fully open. The situation with a further 1825 (8%) has not been reported to us or the local authority did not know. Of the 20,027 maintained schools, 12526 (63%) were reported to be closed, 2536 (13%) were reported to be partially open and 3140 (16%) were reported to be fully open. The situation with a further 1825 (9%) was not reported or was reported as unknown. Of the 1449 academies (including free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools) 823 (57%) were reported to be closed, 415 (29%) were reported to be partially open and 211 (15%) reported to be fully open. There are 24 free schools, of which four were reported closed, one was reported partially open and 19 were reported to be fully open."
16:17 – More from the Met. "At approximately 15:50 hours a containment was put in place outside Panton House, Haymarket, SW1, to prevent disorder by a group of protestors outside the building. Some protestors have entered the building and officers are in the process of making arrests for aggravated trespass."
16:27 – The news channels are getting awfully excited by the Panton street action. I can make out about 200 people kettled in the area. Most of the people in the building (many of them wore the Occupy movement's 'V for Vendetta' mask) have already been led away, as far as I can tell. Presumably they'll be charged with trespass. My hunch is they're just doing the usual broadcast 'frothing at the mouth' thing and that the situation there is already calming down, but I've been wrong before.
16:39 – People are now being released from the kettle. Some naughty troublesome libertarians are suggesting this is because there were more plain clothes policemen in the zone than protesters.
16:59 – Outside of the Panton Street incident, there have been 52 arrests been made, mainly for breach of peace and possession of weapons, police say. Heres the full list: 39 x Breach of the Peace, 4 x Offensive Weapons, 3 x Assault on Police, 2 x Drugs, 1 x Criminal Damage, 1 x Obstruction, 1 x Section 2 and 3 Public Order Act and 1x Section 4 and 5 Public Order Act.
17:08 – Ok, well, with most of the marches now coming to a halt and the end what would have been a working day for public sector workers fast approaching, I'll think we'll call it quits there. See you next week for PMQs.