A UNION leader today warned ‘this could only be the beginning’ as hundreds of striking teachers forced schools in the area to close.
John Gawthorpe, president of NUT Hampshire, said there would be more frequent and larger strikes in the autumn if negotiations with the government over pensions are not resolved.
His union is taking industrial action with the more moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) over proposals for teachers to work until they are 68, pay 50 per cent more pension contributions and receive a smaller pension based on average rather than final salary earnings.
Mr Gawthorpe said: ‘If the government doesn’t respond to this demonstration and accept to put more on the table, then the scale of disruption will be magnified in the autumn.
‘Today we are experiencing a single day of strike on a date when all public exams are over.
‘In future, we may become more tactical and there could be a period of continuous disruption out of which nobody will emerge with much credit.
‘The momentum is building. The headteachers’ union (NAHT) has voted overwhelmingly in favour of balloting their members on industrial action and NASUWT is gearing up to consult their members in the autumn.’
A survey by The News showed 70 schools were due to be shut today with a further 24 suffering partial closures.
A protest march from Portsmouth Guildhall to Commercial Road was scheduled to take place at midday, and Portsmouth Against Cuts Together leaders have asked members of the public to show their support for the strikers, who include civil servants.
Parents interviewed by The News have been largely sympathetic towards teachers going on strike, but many have been forced to take last-minute leave which upset local businesses.
Caroline Collings, chairwoman of the south east Hampshire branch of the Federations of Small Businesses, whose daughters will be attending school, said: ‘The biggest report that I’ve been hearing back from small business owners, like those running shops, is that you can’t have small children in the shop while you’re busy selling to customers. It has affected quite a few people locally.’
Nick Hoath, spokesman for the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘The public sector is having their pensions changed in line with what those in the private sector have had to have for years now. So I really don’t think there’s a lot of sympathy for them.’