A new wave of strike action across the public sector began last night with massive disruption to the London Underground, as 11,000 staff began another 24-hour walkout that will affect millions of commuters. A Bonfire Night strike for firefighters also looms on Friday, as no progress was made during talks with brigade officials yesterday, according to sources close to the discussions. Tensions rose when two demonstrators were injured during the latest round of industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), after they were hit by vehicles trying to break the picket line.
Senior officials from teaching unions will meet on Friday to discuss the possibility of a walkout from schools in a further sign of discontent among public sector workers.
The head of one of Britain's largest unions warned yesterday that the Coalition Government's programme of cuts, predicted to lead to 500,000 public sector job losses, meant it was a "real crunch time" for union members.
"Together we are strong, you are strong, we can show the world what we are about," Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, told a conference yesterday. "We face an attack the like of which we've never seen before. "This is our time. We were born in a time of adversity... We've got to show our mettle."
Disruption across the Tube network will continue into tomorrow morning as a result of the latest strike. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union began the third walkout in three months in protest at job cuts to ticket office staff and station managers.
During last month's strike, 60 per cent of trains did not run and overland trains and buses were inundated. "We'll run as many Tube services as we can, but some lines will have a restricted service and some stations will be closed," a spokesman for TfL said.
Firefighters threatened their 47-hour walkout over Bonfire Night, the service's busiest night of the year, in response to new shift patterns. The FBU said some workers face the sack at the end of the month if they do not sign an updated contract, which makes alterations to the length of day and night shifts. Downing Street has already condemned the strike as "irresponsible".
"We do have a real sense of urgency about this and want to get it resolved," said a union source, "but while there are sacking notices out there this cannot be sorted."
Meanwhile, Unison will hold meetings at the end of the week to decide if it should pursue industrial action in protest at the abolition of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, responsible for negotiating pay and conditions for the school workers.
Council workers are also starting to react to the job losses that will inevitably flow from the Government's decision to slash funding to local authorities.
Members in Kirklees, Edinburgh and Norwich are among those who have signalled support for strike action.