UK unions vow to continue strikes
Chaos reigns as thousands of workers stage walkout over pension changes
Published 01/07/2011 | 05:00
INDUSTRIAL chaos hit the UK yesterday in a wave of strikes.
Thousands of schools were closed, courts disrupted, driving tests and job centres were also closed. And unions warned of more disruption with pledges of fresh industrial action to come.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers, lecturers, civil servants and other workers walked out in protest at controversial changes to their pensions, which they attacked as "unfair and unjust".
Unions clashed with the government over the impact of the strike, while Labour leader Ed Miliband was told he was a "disgrace" for failing to support the action.
Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, predicted that up to four million workers could be involved in strikes in the autumn if the bitter row was not resolved.
PCS members will start a month-long ban on overtime from midnight, which Mr Serwotka said would hit work in job centres, passport and benefit offices and government departments.
The PCS said that it was the best-supported strike it had ever held, with 200,000 taking action, but the government put the figure at half that, saying action was "premature" while negotiations were continuing.
More than 11,000 schools in England alone were disrupted due to the walkout, according to the Department for Education.
Teaching unions suggested the numbers were higher, with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers saying that around 85pc of schools were fully or partially closed across England and Wales.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the union realised the action was "very disruptive for parents", adding "we do regret that".
"We had hoped to reach a settlement before the industrial action, but the Government isn't serious about talks."
Siobhan Freegard of parenting website Netmums said parents were tolerant of the action, but that would only stretch so far.
Mr Miliband criticised the workers for walking out while negotiations on reform of their pensions were still ongoing, saying that while he understood the anger of the teachers and civil servants involved, the action was "wrong" and would not help them win their argument with the government.
But there was strong criticism of the Labour leader at a union rally in London, where one speaker branded his stance a "disgrace" to loud cheers from the audience.
Protests were also held in around 80 towns and cities across the UK.
Prison officers and anti tax avoidance group UK Uncut also took part in demonstrations.