In the biggest UK strike day for a decade, Tower Hamlets came out in force to show unity over an often divisive national issue.
From teachers standing outside Malmesbury School’s gates, to pupils chiming in at Morpeth Secondary and support staff protesting in Poplar, the East End is making its voice heard.
On a blissful winter’s morning in East London the trains are jam-packed, the buses are late and the school gates are shut. But with more bikes on the roads and pedestrians on the streets, the so-called misery caused by industrial action is nowhere in sight. The sounds of laughter from groups of teachers and their friendly exchanges with pedestrians has brought a welcome reprise for many struggling with bills in the cost-of-living crisis.
As you walk down Mile End road, cars chug noisily at each other, stuck in queue upon queue of traffic. Exhaust permeates the London skyline, creating a thin haze of smog over the bright blue scene. But as you venture off the main road down past The Coborn pub, a new kind of activity becomes perceptible. Teachers from all walks of life stand with homemade placards in front of Malmesbury School. These include, ‘Teachers Just Wanna Have Funds’ and ‘WTF: Where’s the Funding’. Jolly yet ironic signs that touch on the pressing need to better support our public sector workers.
George Green’s School in the Isle of Dogs has also come out in force, a group showcasing a proud mix of young and old united under the striking mandate championed by the National Education Union (NEU). If, like many of us, you tune into national bulletins you could be forgiven for perceiving strikers as grim-faced malcontents seeking a day off. Instead, we have smiling and proud East Enders out in droves in the cold, shouting for what they believe in.
Morpeth School’s Bethnal Green strikers boast an array of coloured banners, flags and signs, with pupils putting aside detention-related resentment to stand alongside their teachers. As you walk or cycle through the East End, some groups are playing music from bluetooth speakers to add to the cheer. Some from their cars give a friendly honk, others scorn with disapproval. Despite these divergent views, this day’s striking action has been in abundantly good faith, captured in our photoessay below.
If you enjoyed this article, you may like our heritage piece on the history of unions in the East End.
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