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Day of disruption in UK as up to half a million join walkout

LONDON (AP) – Thousands of schools in the UK are closing some or all of their classrooms, trains are being paralyzed and delays at airports are expected on Wednesday in what is emerging as the biggest day of industrial action Britain has seen in more than a decade, where unions ramp up pressure on the government to demand better wages amid a cost of living crisis.

The Trades Union Congress, a union federation, estimates that up to half a million workers across the country, including teachers, university staff, civil servants, border guards and train and bus drivers, will lose their jobs.

Further actions, also by nursing staff and rescue workers, are planned for the coming days and weeks.

Brits have endured months of disruption to their daily lives as unions and the government bitterly dispute over wages and working conditions. But Wednesday’s strikes mark an escalation of disruptive measures in several key industries.

The last time the country saw mass strikes of this magnitude was in 2011, when well over 1 million public sector workers staged a day-long strike over pensions.

Union bosses say that despite some pay rises – such as a 5 per cent offer the government has proposed to teachers – public sector wages have not been able to keep up with rising inflation, effectively meaning workers have taken a pay cut.

The Trades Union Congress said on Wednesday that the average public sector worker is £203 ($250) a month worse off compared to 2010 when inflation is factored in.

UK inflation is at 10.5%, the highest in 40 years, driven by skyrocketing food and energy costs. While some expect price increases to slow this year, the UK’s economic outlook remains bleak. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund said Britain will be the only major economy to shrink this year, even underperforming sanctions-hit Russia.

The National Education Union said around 23,000 schools will be affected as of Wednesday, with an estimated 85% closed in whole or in part. Others also striking range from museum workers and London bus drivers to coastguards and border officials manning passport control booths at airports.

“It’s all outside … obviously there’s going to be some disruption and some queues,” Border Force director general Phil Douglas told reporters.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union ASLEF, said the government must now listen to workers’ demands.

“Everyone knows someone who works somewhere who is on strike, about to go on strike or being elected to go on strike,” he said. “Quite simply, the government needs to listen now — the people of this country are speaking, and they’re speaking volumes, that they want a rise in the cost of living.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office acknowledged that Wednesday’s strike wave will cause “significant disruption” to people and claimed that “negotiation rather than picket line is the right approach”. the strikes.

Unions are also angered by government plans to introduce new legislation aimed at curbing strike disruptions by enforcing minimum service levels in key sectors, including health and transport.

Lawmakers on Monday backed the bill, which unions have criticized as an attack on the right to strike.

Thousands of people are expected to take part in protests against the law in London and other cities on Wednesday.

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