UK: Teachers lead largest strike in over thirty years
Over 2.000.000 British public sector workers will stage a nationwide walkout today protesting against pension cuts of up to 25%. At the vanguard of the protest will be EI’s UK members: NUT, NASUWT, ATL and UCU.
This is the largest union protest in the UK since the so-called “winter of discontent” in the late 1970’s, when a general public sector strike crippled the country for months.
In strong contrast to that dispute, a significant majority of British citizens strongly support the strike. According to yesterday’s BBC news poll, 61% of the people back the strikers, with 67% believing that Government Ministers are doing a bad job of dealing with the economic crisis.
The strike challenges a series of pension reforms, including an increase in annual contributions from workers to £2.8bn by 2014-15, starting with an increase of £1.1bn next year, followed by £1.1bn and then £0.6bn in the following two years.
Union leaders have described the increases in contributions as an arbitrary "tax" that will help the UK Government pay down the deficit but do nothing to make the four pension schemes – in the sectors of health, education, civil service and local government – sustainable.
Commenting on this, NUT General Secretary, Christine Blower declared:“This dispute has been created by a Government determined to steam roller through pension reform that will irreparably damage teachers’ pensions. The issue has united the teaching profession, as will be demonstrated tomorrow. This strike has nothing to with ‘militants’, but everything to do with teachers and head teachers who do not believe the Government is being fair or reasonable.”
On the related topic of current cuts to public services, NASUWT General Secretary, Chris Keates, emphasised: “Instead of attacking the pensions of ordinary public sector workers, the Government should give priority to stopping billions of pounds being lost each year through tax avoidance and tax evasion by multinationals and the super-rich.”
EI Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, stated: “The current UK Government’s education policy is returning the country’s education system to its more elitist past, undermining the basic democratic principle that ‘education is a right, not a privilege’. With the strong support of a majority of everyday people in the UK, tomorrow’s union action will help to reverse these damaging cuts on teacher conditions and quality education for all.”