Understanding the Strikes: What’s Going On?

Posted on:   Posted by:

In the past few months you’ve probably seen a lot of people with placards, whether that’s on the TV or in the newspaper. You might have even seen or joined a picket line in real life.

Today, Wednesday the 1st February, around 500,000 people are going on strike, making it the biggest single day of strikes since 2011. The striking workers are from a variety of different jobs and unions, though you may have noticed the absence of teachers and lecturers the most.

You might be confused about what the strikes mean for you right now and in the future. You might even be curious as to why strikes are taking place. To make a little more sense, here’s a rundown of the 5Ws: who, what, where, when and why.


Approximately 500,000 people from across the UK.

Who is striking today?

  • Transport workers (the RMT and Aslef unions alongside London Bus Drivers)
  • Higher Education staff such as lecturers (the UCU) 
  • Teachers (the NEU and the EIS unions)
  • Civil servants (the PCS)
  • Border Force staff (the ISU)

Throughout news coverage, union leaders have appeared on TV to give interviews. The leader of the RMT union, Mick Lynch, has been one of the most visible, appearing on shows such as Good Morning Britain and Lorraine to talk about the importance of rail workers’ demands and how the public can support striking workers.

On the other side of the argument, Conservative MPs have been vocal in making their opposition heard. Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education, says that ‘[the government’s] objective for this year is to get rid of the problem, which is inflation’ and that offering a pay rise to striking workers will not help the country as a whole.

The government is currently trying to pass a bill that would mean employees who participate in a strike lose employment protection and could be fired from their jobs. Furthermore, it would mean that all employees are required to provide minimum levels of service, preventing them from withholding their labour entirely. You can read the proposed law here.

In the future, you could see these professions striking too:

  • Ambulance staff and NHS nurses 
  • Driving Test Examiners
  • British Museum workers
  • Social workers
  • Barristers


But what really is a strike?

A strike is when a group of employees belonging to a Union withdraw their labour and stop going to work. For teachers, this means that they stop going to class and in some cases will refuse to mark students’ work.

Before a strike takes place, members of the union must vote on whether they support the strike. If a majority are in favour, then a strike will go ahead.

The end goal of a strike is that the employees of a particular organisation get their demands met. Demands typically include better pay and better working conditions.


All over the place!

Strikes are happening across the UK, but in some professions there are different unions for each individual country— the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), for example.


Last year, this month and possibly beyond.

Today specifically, February 1st, is the biggest strike day since 2011, but strikes will continue across the year until resolutions are reached. Strikes have happened regularly in many professions for a long time, however the current wave of strikes is particularly notable for its size.

You can see a full calendar of planned strikes here.


In the UK, food, energy and living costs have risen majorly since only a few years ago, but wages largely aren’t rising. This means that people are spending more money on essentials, leaving them with less or no money left over. If wages do not rise alongside the cost of living, then the value of people’s wages go down. This is what union leaders mean when they say there has been a “real time pay cut”.

Many jobs demand extra of their employees, beyond what is written on their contract. The University and College Union (UCU) say that university staff are expected to work beyond their contract for no extra pay or recognition. Their free time is sacrificed in order to keep universities afloat and much of what they do should be covered by additional members of staff.

How will this affect me?


  • You may notice cancellations or longer wait times for public services. For example, you may have had a health procedure cancelled or will need to wait in the future for backlog to clear.
  • If you’re looking to book a driving test, driving examiners are also striking throughout this month.This means you will have to wait much longer than usual to be able to take your test.
  • Going on holiday? Security might be slower than usual. Border staff will be striking


  • 85% of schools will be affected by strike action. Your school will likely be closed as there are not enough teachers to run classes or keep the building open and safe.

In Higher Education:

  • Not all UCU members are striking, so it may be the case that some of your lectures and seminars are still on.
  • If your lectures and seminars have been called off, the UCU have instructed those striking not to post materials online that cover for the missed session. So it is unlikely that you will receive lecture recordings or have your missing session rescheduled.
  • There is not currently a strike on marking assessments, however you may experience delays when getting your marks back.

In work:

  • You may be part of a union that is striking, meaning you are either out on strike or may be asked to cover for missing colleagues.

Related Information

The Law, Your Rights and Citizenship is something that applies to us all living in Wales but it can be a difficult subject to get your head around. For more help getting your head around things, visit this information page.

Cyber Essentials Logo

Funding Partners

promo cymru
TheSprout :