Vote! Are public sector workers right to strike?

The ConDems are clearly up for a fight.  They see, in Wednesday’s public sector strike, the opportunity to indulge hyperbole and inject a large rush of class warfare into the mix.  With relish, they have challenged the unions, over the legitimacy of the mandate for the ballot and are threatening to take the deal off the table and clip their wings for good measure.

Instinctively my knee is jerking.  How dare they talk about mandates and legitimacy, when the Conservatives secured only a 36% share of the vote amongst those who actually voted and the Lib Dems a paltry 23%.  No one questioned their authority to form a government for the whole of the UK, even if we Scots feel somewhat democratically disenfranchised by being governed by two parties whom only 36% of all the people who bothered to vote at all, chose.  What is sauce for the goose surely, is sauce for the gander.

And how atypical of them to threaten – as their mentor Margaret Thatcher did before them – to chip away further at workers’ rights.  I’ve done my history:  I know why the Labour movement was formed, I know how hard-earned such protections are and I also know how people get treated – especially in the private sector – when they do not have the benefit of union representation and collective bargaining arrangements.  For some employers, rules and laws are there to be nodded at in passing and little more.  Trade unions serve a useful function – more of us should belong to one, not fewer, particularly in an era of austerity when more corners are likely to be cut to save a pound or two here and there.

Warning that his government might take the pensions’ deal off the table, as Danny Alexander, the Treasury’s hard man (titter), has done is no way to run a government, unless the bluster is masking some hitherto unseen sincerity to sit down and look sensibly at what can be done.  If the unions were minded to call his bluff, that is what they should offer.  But they will not.  For both sides are now entrenched, polishing their armour and mustering their troops and their weapons.

The UK Government’s activity this weekend is entirely deliberate, of course.  It is designed to appeal to those whom Wednesday’s mass walk-out will inconvenience and to blur people’s senses of what is right and wrong here.  Polarising the debate between public sector workers and the rest of us serves the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats’ purpose well.  We’re all in this together remember?  It might be a laughable, derisory notion – ConDems on our side anyone? – but when you’re having to re-arrange your working day or leave your kids at home with a key and an emergency phone number because of an unsympathetic employer or make alternative care arrangements for an elderly relative and realise that the burden of doing all this falls on you, who actually pays these people’s wages, then you can see how such tactics start to gain traction.

Which is exactly where I’ve been for much of the last couple of weeks.  I’ve had to re-arrange a very important event, one which involved some of the most marginalised people in society, who could only dream of the riches of a public sector pay packet and pension to boot.  I’m having to make alternative childcare arrangements, imposing on others’ goodwill.  Another important meeting  – in the diary for some time now – is having to be re-scheduled, with some difficulty, because few of us involved felt comfortable about having to cross a picket line in order for it to go ahead.  It’s all taking up time that should be being spent doing other things.  And I’m doing it all through gritted teeth.

It sticks in my craw somewhat to know that my day and time is being inconvenienced – like so many Scottish people’s – because our public sector workers have a problem with the UK Government.  Why take it out on us?  These subtleties of the consequences of devolution are somewhat lost on the unions who preach and practise solidarity.  But they do need to start getting their head around them.  We don’t like the Tories either and most of us will enjoy the vicarious proxy thrill of seeing workers stick it to them.  But still, a doubt lingers and niggles over whether this is the right way to go about making their point, especially when many of us have been putting up with pay freezes for a lot longer than the likes of teachers.

For my part, I’m doing my best to subdue such treacherous thoughts and focus on the main point of the strike.  And as happens with increasing frequency these days, my me-first tendencies are pricked by the wisdom and thoughtfulness of my pater.  Few know public sector pensions the way he does and for months now, he has been banging on about the unfairness inherent in the UK Government’s proposals, standing up to COSLA colleagues – from across the parties – who want to chip away at workers’ entitlements.  His arguments are similar to the ones made by Dave Watson.

Not only is it NHS schemes that are in surplus, but local government pension schemes in Scotland are similarly so, having made up the black hole caused when Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, whacked them, and private schemes, with corporation tax.   Workers as well as employers contribute to these funds and through properly prudent management, in Scotland at least, there is no shortage to meet immediate or indeed, medium term demands.   The UK Government’s proposals are entirely motivated by its need to generate additional Treasury income from somewhere to fund its disastrous economic plan A which is predicated on closing the deficit gap by any means possible.  To suggest the changes are required to future proof pension provision is disingenuous and downright dishonest.

So much as I will be grumbling my way through Wednesday, I will in fact be supporting our public sector workers on their pickets.  They have a right to strike and that right should be upheld by us all.  They have a just cause and in times like these, solidarity is key.  And frankly, doing anything else would put me firmly on the side of the Tories.  And I ain’t having that.

But do you agree?  Have your say and vote in today’s poll.

10 thoughts on “Vote! Are public sector workers right to strike?

  1. @ Rob Murray –

    “I will be joining the thousands who will be working on the 30th! I suspect that the shopping centres will be full on the 30th!”

    Whilst I myself was working (and doing a fair bit of driving that day) I listened intently to several traffic updates on radio2 informing me of increased traffic around some very large shopping centres most notably in the north of the country which it was judged best to avoid on your return home from work….

    I applaud your points – at some point everyone is going to realise that we are indesputably up the proverbial creek and EVERYONE is going to have to feel a very horrid pinch at some point, but at least this will hopefully ensure we do not end up in a situation many other countries have found themselves in. At least we can still afford to have free NHS, free schooling….

  2. Of Topic Completely.
    In a previous comment on some other of the Burd’s sallies I expressed the opinion that there was an “honest woman ” trying to get out of Lorraine Davidson.
    I withdraw that opinion completely following her disgraceful and dangerous column in today’s Sunday Post in which she dips her spoon deeply into the poisonous concoction of sectarian nonsense played by Labour in Central Scotland for decades and which is now being played again as the final redoubt of panicked unionists

    • Haven’t read it thankfully but hugely disappointed. For a while there I thought she was trying to become a less partisan commentator. Clearly not. Oh well, her loss, not ours!

  3. Re Rob Murray’s comments- The fact that a majority of a 30% turnout voted for a strike makes it absolutely democratic. What would be undemocratic would be measuring the votes of those who choose not to exercise them. Given that there is no legal imperative to vote then everyone is free to cast or abstain- Those who do not vote in effect make a decision to go with the majority who feel informed and driven enough to cast their votes.

    The shenanigans of Danny Alexander and Francis Maude raise this action to another level. It is now not only a vote on the attacks on working pay and conditions of the public sector, but a matter of principle on the rights to withdraw labour and collectively bargain. It has been fuelled deliberately to manoeuvre into just such a position and is seen by the conservatives (with their LibDem naive supporters) as the ideal opportunity to weaken collective bargaining. It may not seem hugely important now but its a step towards the time when it allows them to ride roughshod over every member an entire class. The fact that Labour still sit on their hands in Westminster is a cataclysmic announcement of abandoned principles and reason for being.

  4. What nonsense from Rob up there

    I have had a real terms pay cut most of my Civil Service career. Inflation is X, my salary increase always lower.

    weird little tricks crept in. You get a “non consolidated bonus this year”. This means that you get an extra bit of money this year, but next year you start from the same low point when trying to negotiate salaries.

    One year it was a zero % increase, when there was supposed to be an increase of about 3%. The explanation that year was “Well, OVERALL, the pay bill increased by that amount. In other words, in having to increase the pay of the lowest paid, because of minimum wage legislation, others got shafted.

    All this time I was contributing to my pension, 1 year and a half of my earliest working career, by the way, they took the contribution but it doesn’t count to my pension.

    But my employer treated that as its own money, and then blamed me for it

    And now we are to play more, for longer and even the £4,500 pa pension I was due is to be reduced further

    Thanks Rob and your fellow tories, I hadn’t realised that £4,500 a year was such a generous figure that the hedonism would kill me off. Thanks for saving me from that

  5. Absolute disgrace this strike next week, thousands of school children, students and the most vulrenable in society are being let down by union officials once again.

    I would give my arm to get the wages, pension and security public sector workers get. Try having a real time pay cut each month! 

    The reality is labour messed up our economy so much that once again the Tories are having to clean up their mess.

    To strike when negoations are still happening is disgraceful! The deal the have been presented is a lot better than what most were going to be getting!

    Kate, talk about legitimacy, forming a coalition government that the majority of people voted for is very legitimate, what would not have been is if the libs went into coalition with labour.

    22% in some cases voted for this strike from a turnout of only 30%. That is not democracy that is horrendous! I feel sorry for those in unions, paying their dues each month whilst their union bosses earn 6figure salaries, it is a disgrace! Unions need to be dramatically reformed and I hope this Conservative government will do it!

    I will be joining the thousands who will be working on the 30th! I suspect that the shopping centres will be full on the 30th!

    • So by targeting workers both public and private who didn’t cause the financial crisis yet are fair game to attack in your opinion. Since Thatchers time the bank regulation has been slackened in ever increasing red pen cuts allowing them free rein to sell debt to every tom dick and harry allowing governments to promote this excessive spending/debt as income. Then one has the derivative markets betting on all things that one can think of yet don’t even appear in the real world like a casino where the player gets all the winnings and the losses are passed to governments who tax or steal from the taxpayer. Oh what a wonderful fair world we live in!

      Are we really all in this together?

      The tax haven in the heart of Britain

      RSA Animate — Crisis of Capitalism

      Where Does Money Come From?

      Before/If you ask I have never worked in the public sector yet they need all of our backing in this corrupt society that we are stuck with at the moment.

  6. The constant nibbling away at terms and conditions of all jobs, pensions and workers rights has to be halted. We as workers sign a contract of employment when we start our service. If we don’t honour that contract we can be quickly replaced. Companies and public sector employers are all jumping on the band wagon to cut pensions, impose wage freezes or offer very small rises in salary. They should also honour the contracts that they offered us. It is government that should take the blame for our economic problems (this one and many previous administrations). Tell them to get the money from the employers, directors, senior managers and other positions with obscene levels of salary by supporting the public sector strikes.

  7. I am a PCS member and I voted for the strike as I felt that those that wished to strike should have the mandate to do so. However, I did not wish to strike myself (this time) so I took a days annual leave on Wednesday – I am not willing to cross a picket line (either literally or metaphorically).

    As for threats about changing the laws, I am reminded of my 7 year old who always changes the rules of a game we are playing when he’s losing!

  8. ‘Dossier of hypocrisy’ exposes cabinet ministers’ pensions

    The problem with the strikers in Scotland it is attacking Scots rather than Westminster which is where they should go to clog up the system that is attacking all workers in the UK. Labour MSPs are using this to garner future votes nothing more and it should be seen as such.

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