Rallies took place across the country, including outside Downing Street. Image: Emma Brown/BMA
An estimated 400,000 workers across the UK have gone on strike today, with mass rallies and widespread disruption as the government announced the Spring Budget.
It is not just schools and railways closed. Even the British Museum has been forced to shut galleries at short notice, with a “limited offer” for visitors thanks to a strike from the PCS and Prospect unions. University staff, civil servants, junior doctors and BBC journalists are also walking out
As Jeremy Hunt unveiled his Spring Budget — with a conspicuous absence of any increase in public sector pay — the industrial action is culminating in rallies at Trafalgar Square and with speeches at Downing Street.
Strikes have been growing in number and size since mid-2022, after unions saw no progress in securing pay rises for members amid the cost of living crisis. Most public service workers have faced real terms pay cuts as inflation bites, while a number of disputes over conditions rumble on.
Striking workers spoke of high morale as strikes continued into Spring, and of growing numbers turning to trade unions as the cost of living crisis worsens.
Teachers at Hillyfield primary academy in Walthamstow, east London were up early on the picket line before making their way to central London to hear speeches.
Members of the National Education Union are on the final two days of strike action, amid reports pay negotiations with the government could begin next week.
“We don’t want to be here, we want to be with our students but something has to be done. We are here for all teachers,” said Charlie Bonfanti.
As the teachers worked their way towards Trafalgar Square, crowds were treated to impromptu saxophone performances and signs lampooning education secretary Gillian Keegan.
It was a 5am start for civil servant Dan Durcan, who joined Defra colleagues for a strike with the PCS union.
“I would have preferred not to have woken up at 5 but such is life,” he said.
While making his way along Horse Guards Road, having just heard speeches outside Downing Street, he described “lovely people having a nice time”.
But it was among a backdrop of exhaustion for him and fellow civil servants, he said. A survey by the PCS union found one in 12 civil servants were using food banks.
“Pay is one thing but the job just isn’t very nice to do any more”, he said.
“We can’t go on working these 10 hour days”.
His branch’s membership has grown by 20 per cent since November, and by 178 per cent since 2019. Whereas Durcan used to be the youngest person at union meetings, things have changed, he said.
He’s been taken aback by “the sheer number of young people coming forward and doing stuff”.
Junior doctors’ pay has fallen by 26.1 per cent in real terms since 2008. But junior doctor Sumi Manirajan says the workload has only increased, with working weeks reaching 72 hours, “just running from patient to patient”.
“We are not doing 26 per cent less work. We are probably doing double the amount of work we were in 2008,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, it’s making staff who have dedicated the best part of a decade to making it in the profession decide whether they want to leave altogether.
“Mentally it has a huge burden,” she said. “It has taken a huge toll on me.”
Manirajan says enthusiasm for the strikes, against this backdrop, has not dimmed: “We noticed that turnout has got bigger and bigger”.
With her and colleagues worried about the future of the NHS, she added: “The feeling on the ground is this is our last chance”.
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