Above Photo: Striking teachers and supporters hold a rally on The Mound in support of their claims on January 25, 2023 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.
‘It’s Amazing How Many People Are United At The Moment’.
Britain’s largest strike in a decade swelled to half a million workers on Feb. 1, 2023, after educators and civil servants joined transport workers to demand better pay.
The strikes in Britain are growing and this time it’s the teachers who have come out in force, demanding better wages amongst the cost of living crisis. On Feb. 1 up to 500,000 workers walked out in the UK, in one of the largest coordinated strike actions since the pensions dispute of 2011. It was a cross-union action which also saw train drivers going on strike as well as thousands of the government’s own civil servants. The teachers are refusing to back down in their demands and have promised further strike action and disruption in the coming months. TRNN heads to a protest in central London and speaks directly with the striking teachers, pupils, and other unions who have come out in support of the action. This video is part of a special Workers of the World series on the cost of living crisis in Europe.
This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.
Narration: The strikes in the UK are growing.
Melissa Costello (School teacher): It’s just going to get to the point now, isn’t it, when everything is shut down because everybody has had enough.
Richard Christopher Brown (Sixth form teacher of politics): Well, I think it feels like things don’t work anymore.
Narration: On February 1st, up to half a million teachers, civil servants, and train drivers walked out over pay.
Simon Weller (Assistant Secretary of ASLEF, UK train union): [Rishi] Sunak you are out of your depth. You’re going to have to come and talk to us, and you’re going to have to come up with the goods.
Narration: It was the largest coordinated strike action for over a decade.
Masuma Bari (Secondary English teacher): I mean, if we were being listened to, I wouldn’t be on strike today, I’d be in my classroom right now teaching my year elevens that have got their GCSEs coming up.
Protesters: Teacher burnout it’s why we have this turn out!
Narration: This time, it’s the teachers leading the walkout in what is becoming a battle for dignity and better wages.
Masuma Bari (Secondary English teacher): It’s not an easy decision to make because obviously students are at the forefront of our mind when we’re striking. This is for our future.This is a future of children as well. But at the same time, you know what future is that? Is that a future where, you know, they’re underfunded, they can’t pay their own rent, they can’t, you know, afford food.They can’t afford their bills.Then what kind of future is that? There’s lots of students that I think want to get into teaching, and they’re now put off because actually they can physically see the struggle.There’s lots of teachers going to food banks.
Protesters: No wage losses! Overthrow the bosses!
Harry (Pupil): Well teachers have, for me at least, gone above and beyond what they’re supposed to do, and have gone beyond what their pay demands them to do and what their job descriptions demand them to do. So that includes like extracurricular clubs, and just supporting me, and just making sure that emotional needs are met and that kind of thing, because underfunding is a big thing in therapy and other things as well, so teachers really have to do it all.
Jane Carter (Special educational needs teacher): Well for a start we were just shouting a minute ago about, you know, let’s have a laminator, please. I mean, the funding for just basic things. We find as teachers, we’re always buying things, I mean, the funding for just basic things. We find as teachers, we’re always buying things, because there just isn’t anything there. Basic things that people should just have…you know, stationery and all the rest. But, I mean, a lot of our students need specific equipment, you know, particular resources, because they learn differently. And there just isn’t enough funding to be able to afford all of that.
Melissa Costello (School teacher): We are now at the point where we’re turning off lights and our TV screens and things. Whether we have issues with our heating… we’re trying to, like, only have heating on during the school day.
Masuma Bari (Secondary English teacher): Things that students need, they’re not having it. The facilities have been reduced down massively.
Harry (Pupil): In a school I was at before it got shut down because of a lack of funding. I’ve been in lessons sometimes and there’s been not enough glue sticks, not enough scissors. It slows down lessons.
Dermot Mullin (Assistant head teacher): I’ve seen too many teachers come into the profession and leave too soon because of funding cuts. They’re underfunded, they’re overworked, and we’re not keeping good people. It’s not going to have the best outcome for the pupils, and we’re here for them.
Leon Brown (Pupil): I’m Leon Brown and I go to Heartlands High School, and I’m here today so that teachers get more pay and teachers get fair pay.
Carla (Head of sociology): So at the moment, even within departments specifically for mine – Social Sciences, there’s not a lot of teachers, they’re all leaving.So anyone who’s left in it is taking on double the amount of work. So hours, technically, it’s all day, every day. I work at home as well, not just at school, to get everything done on time. And then at the end of it, when you look at your pay, it’s not matching up.
Dermot Mullin (Assistant head teacher): We have such a high turnover of staff, where in the place that I’ve worked for five years, we’ve had an entire new staff team because people are seeing that there’s jobs out there that pay more, that require less working hours, and they’re seeing those opportunities and going for them. And we’ve lost too many good people to it.
Narration: The striking teachers in the UK are the latest workforce to hit the streets. Their picket lines are supported by other unions, as new battle lines are drawn.
Will Searby (Acorn Union): This is one of the first, one of the biggest rounds, of coordinated strike action since the Pensions Dispute in 2011.
Masuma Bari (Secondary English teacher): It’s incredible, to be honest with you, I think it’s amazing how many people are united at the moment. But actually what’s sad is that there’s so many people out on the streets striking, day in, day out. It’s telling us that actually it’s not just the education sector that’s not being heard, but the transport sector, you know, even the government’s own civil service want to go on strike.
Chris Marks (Public and commercial services union): Yeah so, I’m a member of the Public and Commercial Services Union. We are a union that represents just shy of 200,000 civil servants and workers that are involved in government contracts. Now the fire fighters are in the frame and we hope that more unions will be joining us soon. Now is the time for escalation.
Simon Weller (Assistant Secretary of ASLEF, UK train union): Yeah, [un]usually, as a rail worker, we don’t tend to get a lot of public support, but this time round there has been real widespread support for rail workers, for the teachers, for the nurses, because everyone’s in it together.
Apsana Begum (Labour MP): Since 2010, the devastating effects of austerity on our education system has seen schools be stripped back to the bone.
Jane Carter (Special educational needs teacher): We went to another school before we came on today. We’re supporting each other, because you can feel quite isolated in your own place. And it’s really important to join up. Schools joining up with other schools, and unions joining up with other unions.
Narration: But it is the union solidarity, which is scaring the government, whose response is a set of threatening and Draconian laws.
Carla (Head of sociology): I mean, yes, so the government trying to bring in anti-strike laws is just shocking. And I think, again, it goes against every single thing that they should be doing as a democracy. But when you look from the outside, look at the country and think about that, what they stand for, how does that make any sense whatsoever?
Narration: In an atmosphere of uncertainty, and with inflation set to rise, many strikers are defiant and willing to go further until their demands are met.
Dermot Mullin (Assistant head teacher): I think it’s about perseverance. I think that the strikes are going to need to continue. That, you know, we’ve got three strikes planned again for next month. That’s going to cause a lot of disruption. If it doesn’t change by then, we’re going to have to continue striking. It’s going to come to an ultimatum where they have to make a decision, and it’s about who’s backing down first. And from the spirit of the teaching staff, I don’t think they’re going to be the first ones to do it.