SCHOOLS closed, operations were cancelled and bins went uncollected today as public sector workers walked out on strike.
Sunderland and Durham were hit by the biggest wave of industrial action since 1926 as staff protested over proposed pension changes.
Wearsiders who were at work today faced a transport headache as Metro services were suspended and trains will remain out-of-service until tomorrow morning.
Speaking from picket lines outside public buildings across the city, unions said they had no choice but to take action against plans they said would leave them paying more, working longer and retiring on smaller pensions.
At the Civic Centre today there were angry scenes with demonstrators challenging those who went into work.
As groups arrived together to go into the building the small group of protestors, shouted “scab”.
One of the protestors, Alison Bryan, 46, a care assistant for South Hylton, said: “I have worked for this council for 28 years and put into a pension scheme and my ‘gold-plated’ pension will be £4,200 a year.
“We are obviously asking people to support the industrial action to support our pensions.
“We don’t think they (the people crossing the picket lines) realise they are going to be affected.
“I think what we are doing today is defending the pensions and the whole ethos of the public sector. If we back down now and roll over they will come back and attack our terms and conditions.”
John Kelly, 48, from Grangetown, who is senior representative for Unite union in Sunderland, said: “I just don’t think it is out there the fact that we are not on ‘gold-plated’ pensions as the Coalition Government are stating. It is a pension which is an average £3,000 for women. It is a disgrace they are asking us to pay more.
“Our argument is that we can’t afford to go out (on strike) but this is something we need to take a stand on. If we don’t stand up now it will only get worse.
All but a handful of Sunderland schools were closed today, with all classes cancelled at City of Sunderland College sites and Sunderland University shut.
Sarah Rees, 28, from Hylton Castle, who has a six-year-old daughter, said: “I have had to get my mam to look after my little girl today as her school is closed. I can understand why people are going out on strike, but it does make it difficult for other people.”
Sunderland Royal Hospital and Sunderland Eye Infirmary were carrying out emergency operations only, and the North East Ambulance Service had to reduce its patient transport service.
Most outpatient appointments were unaffected, but patients could not get their prescriptions from hospital pharmacies.
Sunderland Civic Centre and the council’s customer service centres all closed with scores of services knocked-out for the day.
Emergency adult and children’s services were still in place and the Telecare service for 23,000 vulnerable Wearsiders was running.
Libraries, leisure centres, swimming pools, art galleries and museums all closed in Sunderland, though Durham, Seaham and Peterlee leisure centres were open offering £1 children’s swims to families with youngsters off school.
Sunderland’s courts, tax offices, civil service buildings and the Jobcentre in Fawcett Street were all due to be picketed todays.
Support staff from both Northumbria and Durham Police were due to join in the industrial action, but chief officers promised this would not affect policing operations.