TUC Right to Strike day on February 1 will see some services grind to a halt as more than 500,000 workers walk out
Hundreds of thousands of workers from teachers to train drivers are striking today in a mass protest that is expected to bring parts of the country to a grinding halt.
As rows between unions and the government over pay and working conditions continue to escalate, people are set to take to picket lines and join rallies up and down the country in their droves as demonstrations also hit out at government attempts to curb the actions of striking workers.
Led by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) - which brings together more than 5.5 million working people who make up its 48 member unions - more than half a million employees are expected to down tools today in protest.
Among those walking out are thousands of teachers - led by the National Education Union - alongside university lecturers, DVLA staff, Border Agency workers, job centre employees and thousands of civil servants in more than 120 government departments.
In a co-ordinated move being dubbed 'right to strike day', those employees will be joined by around 40,000 train drivers and railway workers, backed by both the RMT union and Aslef, who intend to walk out on both February 1 and again on February 3 as part of efforts to secure higher pay and protect employee rights.
Despite weeks of intense talks between transport unions and ministers, no deal has been struck that would signal the end to the national rail strikes which were first launched last year and regularly leaving large parts of the country without services or reduced timetables for more than 24 hours at a time.
An estimated 100,000 civil servants belonging to the PCS union are also pressing ahead with industrial action from this morning impacting government departments, driving test centres, museums, ports and airports.
With workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency also joining in - the department has requested that people avoid ringing its phone lines on Wednesday and instead to turn to the internet and its online services should they require help before Thursday when staff will be back at their desks.
New powers to curb strike disruption
While hundreds of thousands of workers from postal staff to paramedics are currently embroiled in their own disputes over money and working conditions - with firefighters now among the latest to announce possible action if a pay offer cannot be agreed - the mass walkout is also taking aim at the government's attempts to quash protesting workers with new anti-strike laws.
The Strikes Minimum Service Levels Bill would restrict people's right to strike by imposing minimum service levels from workers such as firefighters and nurses - with bosses legally able to fire employees who ignore an instruction telling them to come to work during industrial action.
The new law if passed would apply across England, Scotland and Wales with those against it suggesting that it could completely end the ability for some job roles to ever protest.
On Tuesday the bill received backing in the House of Commons and was passed by 315 votes to 246 but will face further scrutiny in the House of Lords before it could become law.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: "Unions will fights these plans every step of the way – including through parliament and through the courts.
"On February the 1st will we hold events across the country against this spiteful new bill which is unworkable and almost certainly illegal.
"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."
First large-scale schools strike for more than a decade
Close to 24,000 schools are expected to be affected by industrial action by the NEU - Britain's largest education union - which has chosen February 1 as the first date of seven national and regional strikes between now and March.
While some schools will remain open thousands are expected to be closed this morning or only partially open to allow for study by crucial exam year groups or for the children of keyworkers and vulnerable pupils to be cared for.
The NEU says 'anyone who values education' should support striking teachers who are standing up for schools where teachers are leaving in droves - a third within five years of qualifying. The NEU has also revealed it has received 40,000 new sign-ups to the union since the teacher strikes were announced a fortnight ago.
Teachers in England last held a strike in 2016 when the majority of schools were able to remain open to pupils - a larger scale walkout last took place in 2008.
The NASUWT teachers’ union failed to achieve the 50% ballot turnout required by law for its members to strike in England, but it is advising members not to cover the work or classes of NEU members who are striking.
Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, said: "This is not about a pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts. Teachers have lost 23% in real-terms since 2010, and support staff 27% over the same period. The average 5% pay rise for teachers this year is some 7% behind inflation. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, that is an unsustainable situation."