UK Workers Launch Largest Strike in Over a Decade

The walkout comes a day after members of Parliament approved an anti-strike bill that, if made into law, would enforce “minimum service levels” for railroads and emergency services, Julia Conley reports.

National Education Union strike and rally on Wednesday in London. (Steve Eason, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Julia Conley
Common Dreams

Roughly half a million British workers walked out on Wednesday in the country’s largest coordinated strike in more than a decade.

About 300,000 of the striking employees are educators, and they were joined by civil servants, railroad workers, university professors, London bus drivers, museum workers and border officials, among others, with 59 percent of Britons telling YouGov in a recent poll that they supported the walkout. 

The strong support comes even as an estimated 85 percent of schools across the U.K. were closed on Wednesday. Students and parents stood on picket lines alongside teachers, whose wages have not kept up with inflation and who are struggling to teach in schools where per-pupil spending for the 2024-25 school year is now expected to be 3 percent lower than it was in 2010.

“It’s partly about pay, which has been reduced by 11% over the last 10 years,” Jon Voake, a drama teacher in South Gloucestershire, told The Guardian. “But it’s also about how our workload’s going up. We’re all working with bigger groups. Children’s education is going to suffer and enough is enough.” 

In the most economically deprived parts of the country, the National Education Union said, teachers’ pay has gone down by more than 20 percent since 2010 as the rate of inflation in the U.K. stands at 10.5 percent —”the highest among the G7 group of advanced economies,” according to Al Jazeera

“We’re struggling,” a London teacher named Mehnaz told Tribune magazine last October. “Many of us are living in cold homes because we need to save wherever we can … I know colleagues who are worried about how they’ll pay their rent or their mortgage, or how they’ll be able to afford childcare when they’re at work because their children’s schools are also having to reduce hours and close earlier than they previously did.”

National Education Union strike and rally, London, Feb. 1. (Steve Eason, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Strike organizers said it’s entirely within the  Conservative government’s power to ensure public sector employees are paid fairly .

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) says that the average public sector worker in the U.K. now has $250 less per month than they did in 2010, accounting for inflation. A graph the organization shared on social media as the workers walked out showed that teachers’ real compensation is now far lower than the range among other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A 5 percent pay raise offered to public sector workers last year is actually a 7 percent pay cut when accounting for soaring inflation, union leaders say.

The walkout comes a day after members of Parliament passed an anti-strike bill that would enforce “minimum service levels” in a railroad sector and emergency services, threatening workers with termination if they take part in a work stoppage.

The bill still needs to pass in the House of Lords before becoming law. The TUC has said it could take the government to court over the proposal, which TUC assistant general secretary Kate Bell told The Guardian is “unnecessary, unfair, and almost certainly illegal.”

Ambulance drivers and nurses are reportedly planning to stage a work stoppage in the coming days. 

Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told public health workers on Monday, “I would love, nothing more would give me more pleasure than, to wave a magic wand and have all of you paid lots more” — but organizers and labor advocates on Wednesday said Sunak’s government simply needs to change its tax policies to mitigate the cost-of-living crisis.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on right, visiting University Hospital of North Tees, Jan. 31. (No 10 Downing, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

“We just need a fair taxation system,” John McDonnell, a Labour MP and former shadow chancellor of the exchequer, told The Guardian. He called on the Tories to tax capital gains at the same level of income to pay for raises. “The issue at the moment is that we seem to have a government that is redistributing wealth upwards,” McDonnell said.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, told The Guardian that the Tories have claimed it would cost £29 billion ($35 billion) to give raises to public sectors, while the actual amount is about £10 billion ($12 billion).

“And £10 billion in an economy like ours can easily be found,” said Serwotka.

Mick Lynch, secretary general of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers, rallied thousands of teachers outside Downing Street in London.

“We are the working class, and we are back,” said Lynch. “We are here, we are demanding change, we refuse to be bought, and we are going to win for our people on our terms.”

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from  Common Dreams.


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6 comments for “UK Workers Launch Largest Strike in Over a Decade

  1. February 2, 2023 at 19:16

    I thought he called them the “more” effective evil. Yes, the ACA is an excellent example. It is the brainchild of the Heritage Foundation. Republicans could never have passed this radical right-wing legislation. It took the silvered-toughed Obama, one of the most effective evils, to spearhead this achievement for the oligarchy. It has proven to be as successful as the Heritage Foundation envisioned and enriched the insurance and pharma cartels beyond their wildest dreams while further weakening the already very weakened Medicare program.

    The effectiveness of this travesty is revealed in how ignorant the supposed left is to the theft. Some of the staunchest leftists I personally know, still to this day, even with its massive failure to do as it was proclaimed, believe it was the best we could have hoped for and that all we need to do is tweak it just a little more.

    Ignorance is bliss.

  2. February 2, 2023 at 18:59

    ‘Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told public health workers on Monday, “I would love, nothing more would give me more pleasure than, to wave a magic wand and have all of you paid lots more” ‘

    Reminds me of another famous quote: “Let them eat cake.” Which Marie Antonette probably never said, but nonetheless. . . it concisely encapsulates the callousness of today’s ruling classes. We all know how that ended, and this massive strike with more to come makes it appear as though history is repeating itself.

  3. HelenB
    February 2, 2023 at 17:22

    I don’t think the numbers in your article for inflation versus income are the worst in the G7. Are they correct for the UK? I dont know.
    Check out the US. I think our numbers are much worse.

  4. Red Star
    February 2, 2023 at 08:31

    A video I made of yesterday’s protest in Newcastle upon Tyne. An attempt to record both the numbers involved and the cross-section of society supporting change.


    A couple of points :

    This was the biggest strike in over a decade – yet it only involved a small number of unions. If only all the unions could for once manage to co-ordinate properly and have one massive strike – what might the result ?

    Something I noticed in Newcastle and others have commented on in other places – the complete abscence of any official representation by the (so-called) main opposition party, Labour.

    No doubt many Labour councillors or MPs took part as individuals, but the complete lack of official support does not bode well for the future.

    Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, is politically further right than some Tories, and has made his disapproval of strike action quite clear.

    What do we gain if, having ousted the Capitalist Party at the next election, we merely replace them with the Capitalist Party v.2 ?

    • February 2, 2023 at 09:43

      You are correct. The same goes for USA. Glen Ford used to call Democrats effective evil. Democrats get bills passed that Republicans can not. ACA is a good example

  5. Piotr Berman
    February 1, 2023 at 22:33

    “In the most economically deprived parts of the country, the National Education Union said, teachers’ pay has gone down by more than 20 percent since 2010 ”

    Given the rising the cost of rent in non-deprived parts of the country, their colleagues are perhaps doing as badly.

Comments are closed.