Schools to close as 1.4m strike

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Schools all over Britain face closure today as up to 1.4 million local authority workers walk out for 24 hours in the biggest stoppage since the General Strike in 1926.

The industrial action over cuts in pensions is also expected to close libraries, disrupt refuse and rent collection, and burials.

Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, the biggest union involved in the row, said that existing members of other schemes in the public sector had been protected. "I believe local government workers have been singled out for second class treatment because they are mostly women," he said.

The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who is responsible for local government retirement benefits, is insisting that so-called "rule of 85" is scrapped because it is age discriminatory. The regulation allows staff to retire at 60 if their age and length of service adds up to 85. The proposals would effect existing workers and new recruits.

The Local Government Association warned that the unions' proposed changes to the pension scheme would add at least 2 per cent a year to council tax bills.

The association's Conservative chairman Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, said: "The council taxpayer simply cannot pay more. The changes to local government staff pensions are both needed and necessary."