West News Wire: More than 500,000 workers went on strike on Wednesday, marking the start of the biggest walkout in the UK in thirty years. They were protesting salary hikes that don’t keep up with inflation, problems with pensions, and harsh working conditions.
Participants intended to leave the workplace in large numbers as a show of unity, while the duration and intensity of the strikes varied by industry. These include two Scottish teachers’ unions, 70,000 university employees, and 300,000 teachers from the National Education Union of England and Wales, who assert that their real-terms salary has been reduced by at least 23% since 2010. 100,000 bus and train drivers and 100,000 government employees from more than 100 ministries, including the Department of Work and Pensions and the Coast Guard, are also striking.
The failure of pay raises to keep pace with inflation is a primary driver of the unrest, with inflation continuing at near-record highs across the UK despite officials’ promises to rein it in. While average public sector pay excluding bonuses rose 2.7% between August and October and private sector pay increased 6.9% during that period, inflation exceeded 10%, leaving most workers earning effectively less than they had been.
In addition to work-related issues, strikers are protesting a bill passed Tuesday in the House of Commons that aimed to prevent strikes by mandating minimum levels of service in certain sectors including health services, fire and rescue services, education, transportation, nuclear waste management, and border security. Employees in those trades who did not work when required on a strike day could be fired – a measure the Trades Union Congress has called “wrong, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.”
The bill was drawn up amid December’s historic strike by National Health Service ambulance drivers and nurses, whose grievances include critical personnel shortages that they claim make their jobs dangerous and put patients’ lives at risk. The demonstration was the largest ever staged by the Royal College of Nursing.
A government spokesperson defended its actions on Wednesday to CNBC as merely an “extensive contingency plan” meant to “mitigate any disruption caused” by the protest actions.
Wednesday’s demonstration is to be the largest since 2011, when over a million workers took to the streets in a dispute over public sector pay.