Thousands of Tower Hamlets teachers and lecturers strike over pensions

Thousands of teachers and lecturers in Tower Hamlets took to the picket lines this morning in support of the nationwide strike over pensions.

Nine out of ten primary and secondary schools were shut as the East End experienced one of the hardest hitting public sector walkouts in memory.

The National Union of Teachers confirmed that almost 2,000 of its members were part of the industrial action in the East End.

Hundreds more lecturers from Tower Hamlets College and Queen Mary, University of London affiliated to the University and College Union also shunned classrooms.

The demonstrators were set to join the tens of thousands descending onto central London this afternoon for the biggest public sector strike in a generation.

Teaching staff rallied outside Poplar High Street, Queen Mary’s campus on Mile End Road and Chrisp Street to protest against what they deemed unfair government hikes in pension contributions and the raising of the retirement age.

Mark Winter, a lecturer and joint secretary of Tower Hamlets College’s UCU branch, said: “We have been told we are all in this together but we don’t see that.

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“Support among students for the strike is strong. They realise this is about their future as well.”

Fellow lecturer and UCU joint secretary, Richard McEwan said: “We’ve just had a two year pay freeze and now face a cap of just one per cent rise over the next two years, which equates to about a 20 per cent pay cut.”

Of the 96 local authority-run primary and secondary schools in the borough, 84 were completely shut, eight were partially open and just four were operating as normal.

Primary schools Culloden, Old Ford and English Martyrs and secondary school Ian Mikardo were the four to stay open.

Both Tower Hamlets College and Queen Mary ran lessons and workshops with reduced staff.

School-age children were a common sight on East End streets, as thousands of parents were forced to take time off work or organise alternative childcare.

Support for teachers appeared to be strong, though.

Fatma Rahman’s six boys, aged three to 15, were all off school.

She said: “Normally I’m at college on my access to teaching course but today I have to look after them. The way I see it is kids’ education comes first and it’s had a major impact, especially on my eldest son who is doing his GCSEs. But I do support the teachers. At some point in life you have to stand up for your rights.”

Samantha Costello, whose two boys normally attend Holy Family primary school in Wade’s Place, Poplar, said: “It’s just a shame this affects the children but if it’s the only way it will solve things then that’s what they’ve got to do.”

The demonstrations have the backing of almost 30 unions and involve GPs, court workers, social workers, healthcare staff, border agency staff and most town hall workers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove branded the unions “hardliners, itching for a fight”.