Reporter journeys with Newham teachers on strike march
16:28 26 March 2014
Kay Atwal joined teachers from Newham as they took part in a national one day strike to protest over pay, pensions and conditions. She recounts the day which brought traffic in some of the capital’s most well known streets to a standstill.
My day began at Forest Gate Community School where I was expecting a large gathering of placard waving teachers.
When I arrived, maybe because it was so early, not yet eight, I was met by Miriam Scharf, the NUT representative at the school with a pile of placards and rolled up banners by her feet.
She was undeterred and we decided to wait, watch and see as a slow trickle of students and staff made their way into the school.
Although I was gradually getting colder, supportive comments from passers-by and beeping motorists kept me going.
Even by 8.30am there were only a handful of striking teachers wielding placards and banners. Miriam explained that many colleagues were meeting in central London instead of individual schools.
By 9am I was well and truly frozen, meaning that holding a pen was getting difficult, but more importantly, in desperate need of coffee. At this point, I have to say my resolve was flagging as I wondered how I would last (and work more importantly) for hours and hours in the cold.
I was relieved when Miriam and the other pickets decided it was time for breakfast so we decamped to a nearby cafe.
Fortified by strong cappuccino and armed with first hand knowledge of why the teachers were striking we set off for Stratford.
I began to enjoy the atmosphere at Stratford as commuters, shoppers and members of the public, drawn to the colourful banners shouted messages of encouragement. Our numbers also swelled and I began to realise just how many teachers would be taking part in the march in London.
Our group of 30 or so were hopelessly lost in the sea of people who poured out of Oxford Circus tube station, all of them waving placards and banners as far as I could see, all heading towards Broadcasting House in Langham Place.
Shoppers, tourists and drivers took it all in their stride - several bus drivers went by hooting their support for the teachers.
An almost party-like atmosphere took over the scene where NUT stewards and police officers directed us all to a street behind Broadcasting House before the march could set off.
I can’t remember how long we waited but the atmosphere was so lively and jolly- teacher/parents with toddlers on their shoulders - that I hardly noticed how many of us were packed into the street.
Before long our colourful, noisy procession began weaving its way around Broadcasting Hose, past Oxford Circus station and down Regent Street on its way to Westminster to hear speeches from union leaders.
As the procession cleared Regent Street and the rain began I decided it was time to leave, as I looked forward to resting my weary feet. I pitied the union members, who would no doubt be foot sore by the time the day ended.