Hundreds of thousands strike in UK over pay

Junior doctors rally outside Downing Street in London, on March 13, 2023. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON – Teachers, London Underground train drivers and civil servants joined striking doctors on Wednesday in a mass stoppage as Britain’s finance minister was due to unveil his tax and spending plan.

With hundreds of thousands of people due to walk out, it threatened to be the biggest single day of industrial action since a wave of unrest began last year.

Workers across the economy, from nurses to lawyers, have been striking over the cost-of-living crisis, pitting unions against the government, which says big pay hikes are unaffordable and will only fuel inflation.

As well as pay, which workers say has not kept up with inflation, other issues include conditions, job security and pensions.

Other groups that walked out on Wednesday included university staff across the United Kingdom and BBC journalists in England.

The walkout by train staff in the Aslef and Rail, Maritime and Transport unions in London left the entire Underground train network at a standstill.

Mr Finn Brennan, of Aslef, blamed the government for failing to properly fund public transport in London.

Mr Brennan also blamed it for driving through huge savings which he maintained would lead to cuts in pensions and conditions.

Government departments and the Border Force were expected to be hit by a walkout of an estimated 130,000 members of the PCS civil servants’ union.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said it was a “national scandal” that people administering government services were now so poorly paid that some of them were forced to rely on handouts themselves.

“It’s tragic, because I see these men and women who’ve dedicated their life to public service who always go the extra mile,” he told Sky News.

“They went into work (when) there were people dying from Covid-19 (and) now... they go into the food banks,” the PCS general secretary added.

The latest stoppage by teachers – a two-day strike starting on Wednesday – was expected to affect every school in England.

National Education Union leaders Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney 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.”

Hospital doctors in England on Monday launched a three-day stoppage claiming some of them were paid less than coffee shop workers.

The British Medical Association, which represents junior doctors, says they have suffered a 26 per cent real-terms cut to their pay since 2008-2009. AFP

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