LONDON – Most schools in Scotland were closed Thursday as thousands of teachers walked off the job, joining scores of postal workers and university lecturers across the U.K. in industrial action to demand better pay and working conditions to cope with the country's cost-of-living crisis.
The teachers' strike in Scotland, which shuttered every school on the Scottish mainland, was the first such one in the region in 40 years. Union members want a 10% pay rise, but Scottish authorities say they couldn't afford that.
Elsewhere across the U.K., picket lines were set up outside postal offices and universities in one of the biggest coordinated walkouts this year. In universities, some 70,000 academic staff were striking Thursday and again on Nov. 30 in the biggest action of its kind in higher education. The action will affect an estimated 2.5 million students.
The University and College Union said lecturers and other academic staff have suffered a decade of below-inflation pay rises, with a 3% increase announced in the summer.
Meanwhile, workers at the Royal Mail staged a 48-hour walkout Thursday and will do so again on Black Friday and Christmas Eve over a long-running pay dispute.
Britons have faced days of travel misery and overflowing garbage bins in recent months as unions representing multiple industries launched successive strikes. Lawyers, nurses, postal workers and many others have walked off the job to seek pay rises that match soaring inflation. Domestic energy bills and food costs have skyrocketed this year, driving inflation to a 41-year high of 11.1% in October.
The latest walkouts come after the Rail, Maritime and Transport union announced Tuesday that more than 40,000 rail workers will stage fresh strikes in December and January, disrupting travel for scores of people during the busy festive season. The union said members will walk out for four days from Dec. 13 and in the first week of January.
Pubs, bars and other hospitality companies say the latest train strikes will devastate struggling businesses at a crucial time of year, when millions typically go out for Christmas drinks and gatherings.
“Continued rail strikes have had a huge impact on our hospitality sector; preventing staff from making it into work and disrupting consumers’ plans, meaning a huge drop in sales for venues across the sector," said Kate Nicholls, chief executive for the UKHospitality trade body.
“Further strikes during the busiest time of the year for hospitality will be devastating, just as everyone was anticipating an uninterrupted Christmas period for the first time in three years," she added.
Rail union chief Mick Lynch said he held “positive” talks with Transport Secretary Mark Harper on Thursday, but said the upcoming strikes will not be called off until the union had a “reasonable offer on the table" to put to its members.