STRIKERS in St Helens claimed a united front this morning as picket lines cropped up outside council buildings and depots.

They have joined a 24 hour national public sector strike over what they claim are cuts to their pay packet and pension.

Council services were severely disrupted with schools, libraries and leisure centres closed. Brown bin and recycling collections have been cancelled.

Essential services, including care for the elderly and vulnerable, have been maintained.

Speaking outside St Helens Town Hall members of the GMB said: “We have effectively had a pay cut for the past four years and the employers are refusing to negotiate.

“People have had enough. The government has the key to unlock this dispute but they are not willing to do it.

“They are talking about bringing legislation in unless 50 per cent of members vote for action but they can get elected with less than 30 per cent along with councillors.

"The libraries are closed and the town hall and we take no delight in that, but the message needs to get across.

“It’s very important that we stick together. The aim is to get the employers back round the table and take a negotiated settlement.”

Although some council workers did cross the picket line, the members said that overall the response has been supportive.

Outside the Gamble building a notice stuck to the door informed people that the library was closed. Union members from Unison said: “We have had no proper pay rise for years while the price of everything else has risen.

“The cost of living has risen and we have had a pay cut.

“We have to make a stand because we can take only so many knocks. We have just spoken to one man who said ‘good on you’.

“There are pickets all over town, including Wesley House and Hardshaw Brook. We realise it’s inconvenient for people but in the long run we can provide a better service but we are just asking for a reasonable living wage.”

Up to 32 schools in St Helens are expected to close. However, 14 schools will be fully open and a further 16 partially open.

Speaking ahead of the strike, Patrick White, secretary of the St Helens branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Teachers are very concerned that not only have they seen their pay fall back over the past few years after a government pay freeze, but have also seen their working hours increase to nearly 60 hours on average in primary schools, and have also seen a rise in their pension age to 68.”

He said this “toxic mix” has already seen around 40 per cent of teachers leaving the profession within five years of starting.

Union members from Unison, Unite, GMB, Public and Commercial Services Union and the NUT will be joined by firefighters.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, said: “The fact that this Government has united so many workers to take strike action is testament to the failure of their policies.”