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Employment

February 1 strikes: Who is on strike this Wednesday and where are protests taking place?

Hundreds of thousands of workers are set to walk out of their workplaces on Wednesday February 1, in what has been called the most important coordinated action in almost a century

February 1 is set to be a landmark day for strike action as hundreds of thousands of workers stage “the most important coordinated walkout for a century”.

Union leaders have coordinated industrial action to cause maximum disruption as the rising cost of living has become a unifying force behind demands for higher pay.

New legislation brought in by the government that would restrict the right to strike by forcing some workers to maintain minimum service levels has only added fuel to the fire. 

Now, teachers, university staff, civil servants and train drivers have all said they will walk out on Wednesday February 1.

There will also be demonstrations organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and National Education Union (NEU) in cities and towns across the UK to protest proposed laws to restrict strike action.

Responding to the mass walkout, trade unions historian Dr Edda Nicolson told The Big Issue: “I don’t think we have a name for what this is yet”.

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“I would call it the most important coordinated action we have seen since the 1926 General Strike.”

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The UK last saw a general strike in 1926, when the TUC – the federation of trade unions – called its members to strike in defence of 1.2 million miners who were being forced to work longer hours for less money. 

Legislation brought in by Margaret Thatcher now prevents the TUC from calling a general strike, however, there is nothing to stop each union from coordinating their strike action to fall on the same day, given they have a legal mandate to strike. 

Here’s why February 1 2023 is set to be one for the history books, and how you can get involved. 

Who is going on strike on February 1? 

Teachers

Teachers in the NEU, the UK’s largest union representing teachers, will walk out on February 1, the first of seven days of strike action over the next two months.

Around ​​300,000 teachers in England and Wales, plus teaching support staff in Wales, could leave their classrooms, affecting more than 23,000 schools.

“This is not about a pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts. Teachers have lost 23 per cent in real-terms since 2010, and support staff 27 per cent over the same period,” said Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU.

“Teachers are leaving in droves, a third gone within five years of qualifying. This is a scandalous waste of talent and taxpayers’ money, yet the government seems unbothered about the conditions they are allowing schools and colleges to slide into,” they continued.

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Civil servants

Around 100,000 civil servants in five more departments, including HMRC, will also walk out. Called by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, it will be the largest civil service strike in years. 

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that if the government “puts some money on the table there is a chance this dispute can be resolved”.

If not, it will see “public services from benefits to driving tests, from passports to driving licences, from ports to airports affected by industrial action on February 1.” 

University staff

More than 70,000 staff at 150 universities will walk out, followed by a further 17 days of strike action in February and March.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said her members will “walk out alongside fellow trade unions and hundreds of thousands of other workers to demand their fair share.”

“Whilst the cost of living crisis rages, university vice-chancellors are dragging their feet and refusing to use the vast wealth in the sector to address over a decade of falling pay, rampant casualisation and massive pension cuts,” she continued. 

Train drivers

The train drivers union Aslef has called strikes on Wednesday February 1 and Friday 3 after it rejected a pay offer from rail companies. Roughly 12,500 train drivers are expected to strike, affecting 15 train companies.

The disruption is expected to force around 70 per cent of services to be cancelled nationally, with the possibility of no trains running in some parts of the country, according to The Rail Delivery Group.

The few hundred train drivers who are represented by the RMT will also refuse to work. The RMT said the date “coincides with a TUC day of action where several unions are coordinating their strikes during the cost of living crisis.”

Border Force staff

Border Force staff will strike with the PCS union, meaning people travelling through airports or seaports are likely to face queues. About 1,000 workers, including people manning passport booths, are expected to walk out, affecting six of the country’s busiest airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff.

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Why are people protesting to defend the right to strike?

The TUC is holding a national day of protest to protect the right to strike on February 1, with demonstrations taking part across the country. 

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill would force workers to maintain a skeleton service in health sectors, rail, education, fire and border security, or face losing their jobs. 

However the bill does not stipulate what would constitute a minimum service level, and is seen as an attempt to force workers to continue to run services without having to engage with union demands.

The proposed law has passed all the necessary stages in the House of Commons and will now go to the House of Lords for scrutiny.

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Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC, has called the bill spiteful, unworkable, and “almost certainly illegal”, vowing to fight the plans through parliament and through the courts. 

He said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty – but the government is attacking it in broad daylight.  

“These draconian new curbs will tilt the balance of power even more in favour of bad bosses and make it harder for people to win better pay and conditions. 

“We will call on the general public to show support for workers taking action to defend their pay and conditions, to defend our public services and to protect the fundamental right to strike.” 

Where can I protest to protect the right to strike?

The TUC is holding rallies across the country to show the government it is “ready to fight these unjust laws”.  You can find out more about rally locations, times and guest speakers on the TUC map

The NEU is also organising national strikes rallies at many locations, calling on the public and all workers to show their support for teachers embarking on their first day of strike action.  

In London, the NEU organised rally will be the main demonstration, with protesters marching from Portland Place to Westminster Central Hall where a rally will take place from 1pm. 

Supporters are invited to bring “banners, placards, whistles, school bands… families and children welcome!”

You can also show your support to workers who are taking strike action on February 1, or any other day, by finding your nearest picket line on Strike Map

‘Protect the right to strike’ rallies organised by the TUC are set to take place in: 

Beverley

Bradford

Cambridge

Carlisle

Chesterfield

Colwyn Bay

Bristol

Derby

Doncaster

Dover

Edinburgh

Exeter

Halifax

Horsham

Hull

Machynlleth

Nottingham

Portsmouth

Sheffield

Southampton

Taunton

Worcester

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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