Royal Mail workers, university lecturers and sixth form college staff went on strike on Wednesday, reporting strong support from the public as they mounted scores of picket lines across the country.
It was one of the biggest walkouts in a year dominated by industrial unrest, with more stoppages planned in the coming weeks by railway staff, NHS workers and bus drivers.
Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are also planning seven more strikes in December, including on Christmas Eve.
The union said its members will be in London on December 9 for the “biggest strike demonstration this country has ever seen”.
The CWU, National Education Union (NEU) and University and College Union (UCU) said Wednesday’s action was being solidly backed by their members, who were receiving messages of support from members of the public.
NEU teacher members who work in 77 sixth form colleges in England went on strike after the union said they have suffered a real-terms pay cut of an estimated 20% since 2010.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, told the PA news agency from a picket line in Islington, North London: “I’m here to support the NEU members who are taking industrial action against the decimation of their terms, their pay, their working conditions and the funding for sixth form colleges, which will be less in 2025 than it was in 2005 in real terms.
“They have seen their pay decline by 24%, courses are being axed, support services in the college being axed, pastoral services – a whole range of services which enable them to teach effectively have been axed because of the terrible funding.
“This is a government that talks about growth but deliberately underfunds a sector which is the absolute bedrock of growth particularly in terms of skills.”
The UCU followed up a 48-hour strike last week with a 24-hour stoppage among university staff and is holding a rally in London.
General secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff are prepared to do whatever it takes to win decent pay, secure employment and fair pensions, and vice chancellors need to understand that they cannot simply ride this out. Students and staff are united like never before.
“At the national rally in London, the entire movement will show it is behind UCU’s campaign to save higher education. It is clear those who run our universities are becoming increasingly isolated.
“Our union is ready to deliver more industrial action next year, but avoiding that is entirely the responsibility of employers who have this week to make an improved offer. The ball is in their court.”
UCU members at the University of Sheffield International College are on strike for three days, ending on Wednesday, in a long-running dispute over low pay.
The union says the action is the first strike to take place in a privatised higher education provider.
CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “Royal Mail bosses are risking a Christmas meltdown because of their stubborn refusal to treat their employees with respect.”
Mark Dolan, London divisional representative for the CWU said outside the Royal Mail Islington Delivery Office in north London: “This is our 11th day of strike action and the action we are taking today is about saving this Great British institution, 500 years’ service that we give to the public, and also the destruction of our terms and conditions.
“The company, following Covid, made over £700 million and they made that money off the backs of our membership who during Covid put their own lives on the line connecting the country, delivering test kits and we were hailed as key workers during Covid.
“And yet, 18 months later, the company have announced they have got no money. They gave most of the profits away to shareholders and the people who sit on the board of Royal Mail.
“We’re not prepared to stand by and watch this great public service tuned into another gig economy service where they want to get rid of the current workforce and replace them with workers on 20% less money and less terms and conditions than we currently have.”
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “The CWU is striking at our busiest time, holding Christmas to ransom for our customers, businesses and families across the country.
“We apologise to our customers and strongly urge them to post early for Christmas.
“We are proud to have the best pay and conditions in our industry. In an industry dominated by the ‘gig economy’, insecure work and low pay, our model sets us apart and we want to preserve it.
“Despite losing more than £1 million a day, we have made a best and final pay offer worth up to 9%. Strike action has already cost our people £1,000 each and is putting more jobs at risk.
“The money allocated to the pay deal should be going to our people, but it risks being eaten away by the costs of further strike action.
“We once again urge the CWU to call off strike action. We remain available to meet to discuss our best and final offer.”
A Royal Mail spokesman also said the CWU general secretary made several false statements about job losses designed to “mislead and create fear and uncertainty” amongst employees.
“As recently as November 28, we wrote to Mr Ward to correct his false allegations that Royal Mail is planning to ‘sack’ thousands of workers and wants to become ‘another courier company’. This is simply not true,” he said.
“We have already announced that reductions in 10,000 full-time equivalent roles – which have become necessary as a result of industrial action, the need for better productivity and lower parcel volumes following the pandemic – will be achieved through natural attrition, reducing temporary workers and a generous voluntary redundancy scheme which has been oversubscribed.
“We are proud to have the best pay and conditions in our industry. In an industry dominated by the ‘gig economy’, insecure work, and low pay, our model sets us apart, and we want to preserve it. Despite losing more than £1 million a day, and already offering a package that pays up to 40% more than our competitors, we have made a best and final pay offer worth up to 9%. This has been rejected by the CWU.”