CLASSROOMS, offices and libraries stood empty yesterday while striking workers marched through the streets protesting against planned pension cuts.

Thousands of workers across the conurbation joined the national walkout, which was the largest strike since the 1920s.

Many council services were cancelled and others operated at reduced capacity. Virtually all schools were shut, along with Bournemouth, Boscombe and Castlepoint libraries.

Boscombe Day Centre was closed and two others were affected by striking kitchen workers. In Poole, bins went uncollected while in Bournemouth, half the normal number of refuse crews were working.

Instead, many workers chose to support rallies and marches in Bournemouth and Dorchester. In Bournemouth, it was anticipated that more than 500 people would join a march through the town. In fact the number was probably nearer 1,000.

Polly Way, a history teacher, was one of several Glenmoor School staff at the march. She said the strike was not just about pensions but about the “privatisation of education” and the setting up of academies.

“There are so many issues,” she said. “Teachers have been demonised in the press instead of the people who are at the root of this problem.

“We’re being asked to take the brunt of the cuts in the public sector, which seems to be more of a coalition political agenda, whereas the amount that they are charging in bank levies is pitiful in comparison.

“As a history teacher we teach a lot about standing up for people’s rights and I believe I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t stand up for what’s right.”

Mary Priest, a manager at Bournemouth Jobcentre and branch secretary for the PCS Union in Dorset, said: “The extra contributions we are going to pay are going to fund the deficit, they are not going into the pension pot.

“The public need to understand that talk of gold-plated pensions is a myth. The average public sector pension is £80 a week which can hardly be described as gold-plated.”

Yvonne Chittock, a secretary in the NHS, said: “I don’t think it’s fair what the government is trying to do. We already get poor wages and now they are trying to steal even more money from us. I just feel you’ve got to make a stand.”

And Bournemouth University lecturer Kirsty Stanley said: “It was a very, very difficult decision to strike today. I kept changing my mind and only really decided at the last minute.

“But I belong to a union and felt I should show my support. I want to keep the pensions that we have paid into and not see them used to bail out the bankers.”

A primary school teaching assistant, who did not want to be named, said: “I’ve been training for the past four years to be a teacher and there’s now less and less incentive.

“We think they can take the money from somewhere else, from up the top instead of trying to squeeze it from the bottom.”

Mike Cracknell, regional organiser for Unison, based in Wareham, said: “For the members here today, they are expected to work longer, pay more and get less in their pension fund when they retire. The consequence of that is they will have to rely on the welfare state in their old age.

“I hope that this will make the government negotiate sensibly.”