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Thousands walk out over pensions

The biggest strike for five years closed thousands of schools and disrupted courts, driving tests and jobcentres, with warnings of fresh industrial action to come.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers, lecturers, civil servants and other workers walked out in protest at controversial changes to their pensions, which they attacked as "unfair and unjust".

Unions clashed with the Government over the impact of the strike, while Labour leader Ed Miliband was told he was a "disgrace" for failing to support the action.

Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, predicted that up to four million workers could be involved in strikes in the autumn if the bitter row is not resolved.

PCS members will start a month-long ban on overtime from midnight, which Mr Serwotka said would hit work in jobcentres, passport and benefit offices and Government departments.

The PCS said it was the best supported strike it had ever held, with 200,000 taking action, but the Government put the figure at half that, saying action was "premature" while negotiations were continuing.

More than 11,000 schools in England alone were disrupted due to the walkout, according to the Department for Education. Teaching unions suggested the numbers were higher, with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers saying that around 85% of schools were fully or partially closed across England and Wales.

Siobhan Freegard, of parenting website Netmums, said parents were tolerant of the action, but that would only stretch so far. "Tolerance is not going to stretch very far because the majority of mums now work," she said. "One or two days are fine, and businesses understand, but a lot of people work in situations where businesses aren't going to put up with taking all these days off, and, as with snow days, start docking money."

Mr Miliband criticised workers for walking out while negotiations on reform of their pensions were still ongoing, saying that while he understood the anger of the teachers and civil servants involved, the action was "wrong" and would not help them win their argument with the Government.

There was strong criticism of the Labour leader at a union rally in London where one speaker branded his stance a "disgrace" to loud cheers from the audience. Unions said up to 20,000 took part in a huge march and rally in central London, which passed Downing street and Parliament, before a series of speakers lined up to warn that cutting pensions would force people to leave teaching or quit pension schemes.

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