Rally fills Shrewsbury Square on 'national right to strike day'

Teachers and ambulance staff joined union representatives at the Square in Shrewsbury for a rally in support of those taking part in waves of strikes across the county, writes Chloe Bush.

At the rally in Shrewsbury were, from left, Eszter Kovacs and Evie Cartwright
At the rally in Shrewsbury were, from left, Eszter Kovacs and Evie Cartwright

The rally was part of a "national right to strike day" organised by the Trades Union Council (TUC) in response to a bill in parliament which, if it is passed into law, will mean unions representing key workers will have to agree to minimum levels of safety and service when their members go on strike.

Paul Nowak, the general secretary of the TUC, which represents all unions, said the right to strike was a fundamental British liberty.

From left, Paula Llywarch, John Boken, Naomi Hutchings and Sarah Duff

Shrewsbury Green Party councillor Julian Dean attended the rally to show his support, not only for teachers but for all public sector workers.

He said: "Only two years ago we were out clapping for our key workers and now we're leaving them behind. The money is there, the Government found the money when it was needed in the pandemic for PPE. If we taxed wealth the same amount we tax income, we would save £14 billion for the public sector."

The councillor emphasised the need for sustainability in these sectors.

Shrewsbury musician Tony Stanton

Branch secretary of the National Education Union, John Boken, said he was ecstatic at the turnout for the rally.

"It exceeded all my expectations. There have been rallies in every big town and it is wonderful to see so many in Shrewsbury. The union has a positive relationship with the schools, it is not their fault."

Also present at the rally was NEU representative, Paula Llywarch. She has been a teacher for over a decade and teaches Creative Media.

"Over the last 10 years we have seen budget cuts, with class sizes increase and course options decrease. We used to say 'every child matters' but there is a lack for funding for high needs pupils."

Sarah Smith, who works in the learning support department in a school in Shropshire, agreed.

"It is not the fault of individual schools but budget cuts mean that learning support kids are being left behind."

Shropshire Council employee Sarah Clarke and supporter Adele John

Martyn and Christina Fogel are both teachers and were at the rally with their six-month-old son, William.

"We are doing this for William and other children," said Christina, who is currently on maternity leave.

Martyn said he was striking for the support staff in schools, such as teaching assistants and learning mentors.

"Their salaries are criminally low, without support staff teachers couldn't do their jobs."

He said teachers were also concerned about working conditions.

"They are exhausted and stressed out. A third of teachers leave the profession in the first five years."

Sarah Duff, who teaches biology at the Shewsbury Colleges Group, agreed that many were leaving the profession unable to cope with the pressure.

She and English teacher, Naomi Hutchings, said they were appalled that any pay rise would have to come from individual school budgets.

"School budgets have been cut savagely enough. They can not afford this, the money should come from the government," Sarah said.

Additional reporting by Sue Austin

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