Up to half a million British teachers, civil servants and train drivers have joined the largest coordinated walkout over pay and working conditions in more than a decade.
The nationwide walkouts, whose organizers threaten more disruption if their pay demands are not met, fully or partially closed schools, suspended most rail services, and forced the military to be put on standby to help with border checks on a day dubbed ‘Walk Out Wednesday’ by unions.
On Wednesday, some 300,000 teachers in England went out on strike. According to the National Education Union (NEU), which is organizing the teachers' strikes, these teachers have experienced at least a 23-percent real-terms pay cut since 2010.
Teachers across two unions in Scotland also took part in the action.
The walkout is expected to affect some 23,000 schools and potentially millions of students in the first of seven planned walkouts after a decade of meager payments in a state-funded school system.
Teaching union leaders accused Education Secretary Gillian Keegan of squandering the opportunity to avoid Wednesday's strike action as they emerged from talks at the Department for Education on Monday.
Furthermore, virtually 100,000 civil servants across over 100 departments, including driving instructors, coastguards and Department of Work and Pensions staff joined the walkout, plus some 70,000 university workers, including lecturers and security staff.
Some 100,000 train drivers also came out on strike on Wednesday.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, representing the striking civil servants, warned British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government that further coordinated action was inevitable. "If the government doesn't do something about it, I think we will see more days like today with more and more unions joining in," said PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka. "We need money now."
Strikers mainly demand inflation-beating pay raise, pensions reform, and no cuts in redundancy terms.
While inflation has started to go down slightly, it still remains at historic highs, and acute in areas that mostly affect workers with lower salaries. Over the course of the four weeks to January 22, grocery price inflation hit a record 16.7 percent.
The last such massive strike action occurred in the UK after a dispute over public sector pay in 2011, when over a million workers were estimated to have joined the walkout.
On Tuesday, British firefighters also voted "overwhelmingly" for nationwide strikes across the UK over pay for the first time in 20 years. According to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), firefighters delivered a decisive mandate on Monday, with 88 percent voting yes to strike action, on a 73-percent turnout.
Strikes could take place as soon as February 23 after the rejection of a five-percent pay offer, sources said. However, the FBU says it will not call action if a "significantly improved offer" is made before February 9.
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