Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers including teachers, council workers and firefighters staged a 24-hour pay strike yesterday in a stoppage that has prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to pledge a crackdown on union powers.
Protesters marched through the streets of many of Britain's main cities in one of the biggest coordinated labour stoppages for three years.
Denouncing what they called "poverty pay", they demanded an end to restrictions on wage rises that have been imposed by the government over the past four years in an ongoing effort to help reduce Britain's huge budget deficit.
In London, demonstrators marched towards Trafalgar Square, chanting "Low pay, no way, no slave labour" to the beat of a drum. A giant pair of inflatable scissors, carried by members of the National Union of Teachers, read "Education cuts never heal".
Firefighter Simon Amos, 47, marched wearing his uniform behind a flashing fire engine parading members of the Fire Brigades Union.
"The government are making us pay more for our pension for it to be worth the same, and making us work longer," he said.
The biggest public sector union involved, Unison, said early reports showed the strike had lead to 3,225 school closures with more than 1,000 others partially closed.
Refuse collectors, school support staff, cleaners, street sweepers, care workers, nursery assistants and social workers were joining the strike, it added.
Hot spots, it said, included the North East, Wales and East Midlands where most council offices had closed, while more than 60 picket lines have closed most services in Newcastle.
"It is a massive decision by local government and school support workers to sacrifice a day's pay by going on strike, but today they are saying enough is enough," said Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis.
Britain's coalition government has restrained pay for public sector workers since coming to power in 2010, imposing a pay freeze until 2012 and then a one per cent pay rise cap.
The Cabinet Office said most schools in England and Wales were open and that fire services were operating nationwide.
On Wednesday, Cameron told parliament he planned to limit unions' striking powers.
"How can it possibly be right for our children's education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in this way," he said.