Teachers on strike at Stocklake Park Community School, Aylesbury, on February 1. Image: Linda H / @lCitizenErased
Up to half a million people are on strike across Britain today in what is thought to be the biggest walkout in a decade. Teachers, university staff, civil servants, Border Force workers and train drivers have joined coordinated strike action, forcing schools to close, trains to stop running and airports to be gridlocked.
“I don’t think we have a name for what this is yet”, trade unions historian Dr Edda Nicolson told The Big Issue, responding to the mass walkout.
“I would call it the most important coordinated action we have seen since the 1926 General Strike.”
Talks between ministers and unions have continued to falter, with fewer than one in five people thinking Rishi Sunak’s government is doing a good job negotiating with trade unions to prevent strikes, according to a recent poll from Ipsos.
Around 300,000 teachers in England and Wales, plus teaching support staff in Wales, have left their classrooms, affecting more than 23,000 schools.
The National Education Union is holding huge rallies across the country, with thousands attending protest march in central London over the inadequacy of their pay against soaring inflation, which has contributed to a staff exodus.
Teachers at Bishop Thomas Grant School in south London travelled on the “strike bus” to join the demonstration marching through the centre of the capital.
Elsewhere, teachers bumped into striking train drivers outside London’s Euston station where members of Aslef union stood on the picket line. It’s estimated roughly 12,500 train drivers are on strike, affecting 15 train companies. Drivers represented by the RMT union have also walked out, with the combined efforts causing around 70 per cent of services to be cancelled nationally.
With 85 per cent of schools expected to close or partially close, picket lines big and small have appeared at hundreds of school gates across the UK.
Steyning Grammar School in West Sussex was forced to close to all pupils except for those in Year 11, with teachers manning a picket line at the secondary school entrance.
In Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, teaching assistant Linda Harris, who is not on strike, showed up to support striking teachers in her community. “I refused to cross our picket,” she told The Big Issue, “[I] fully support our teacher colleagues.”
In further education, more than 70,000 staff at 150 universities walked out of lecture halls and study rooms today, with a further 17 days of strike action in February and March.
General secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) Jo Grady said her members will “walk out alongside fellow trade unions and hundreds of thousands of other workers to demand their fair share.”
UCU members at the University of Cambridge also manned a picket line in the centre of the city, with one banner reading: “Supervisers demand fair pay, secure contracts, paid training”.
“The longer the picket, the shorter the strike – and the Downing Site picket is too long to fit into one photo!” wrote Danika Parikh, archaeologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge.
Lecturers at the University of Kent held a picket line outside the arts building, complete with supportive dogs.
Civil servants in the PCS union have also joined the mega strike, walking out in government departments, including HMRC.
Around 60 civil servants gathered at a picket line outside the Home Office, in central London.
“Whether your picket looks like this or only has one person, PCS members are doing us proud today” wrote a PCS spokesperson on Twitter.