Teachers, London Underground train drivers and civil servants have joined striking doctors in a mass stoppage, just as Britain’s Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt unveiled his tax and spending plans.
With hundreds of thousands of workers walking out on Wednesday, it was touted as the biggest single day of industrial action since a wave of unrest began last year.
From nurses to lawyers, staff hit by a cost-of-living crisis have been striking across the economy, pitting unions against the government which insists big pay hikes are unaffordable and risk fuelling inflation.
“The government are not listening, so this is what we have to do,” Jil Gant, 59, who works for the prison service, told the AFP news agency at a protest in front of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street office.
She was joined by hundreds of other striking civil servants chanting, “What do we want? 10 percent, when do we want it? Now!”
An estimated 130,000 members of the PCS civil servants’ union walked out from government departments and agencies like Border Force.
Gant called the government’s latest 2 percent pay rise offer an “insult”.
Workers who say salaries have not kept up with inflation are also striking over conditions, job security and pensions.
Other groups staging stoppages on Wednesday included UK university staff and BBC journalists in England.
The action by train staff in the Aslef and Rail, Maritime and Transport unions in London left the entire Underground train network at a standstill.
‘Lot of support for strikes’
Wednesday’s walkouts came as Hunt unveiled in his budget a raft of support measures to help struggling families, but failed to earmark specific funding for public sector pay rises.
“We’re willing to offer more, but we won’t do anything that causes inflation to stay up because that would mean we would still have these strikes in a year’s time,” he told the BBC in an afternoon interview.
Public and Commercial Services Union [PCS] General Secretary Mark Serwotka said it was a scandal that some of those administering government services were now so poorly paid they were forced to rely on handouts themselves.
The spiralling strikes could no longer be ignored, he added.
“Doctors are on strike in our hospitals, train drivers are on strike. Teachers are on strike. I believe that for the first time in years, opinion polls show there’s a lot of support for strikes,” Serwotka told AFP.
The latest stoppage by teachers — a two-day strike starting on Wednesday — was set to affect every publicly funded school in England.
‘Our action will escalate’
Emmanuel Adebayo, 36, who teaches at an east London primary, said he had always dreamed of being a teacher.
But he said conditions were currently “really poor” and often it was children with special needs and other vulnerable pupils who suffered as a result.
“I have considered leaving teaching but I love my job. That’s why I’m here today, to make sure that things are better for other teachers to come,” he said at a huge gathering of striking teachers in central London.
National Education Union leaders Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney earlier threatened to step up their action if the government failed to put “money on the table”.
“If they don’t our action will escalate,” they said in a joint statement.
“Shamefully, ministers don’t seem interested in giving their own employees a fair pay rise to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.”
UK hospital doctors in England on Monday launched a three-day stoppage claiming some were paid less than coffee shop workers.
The British Medical Association, which represents junior doctors says they have suffered the equivalent of a 26 percent cut to their pay since 2008-09.