Strike Action

Today's TUC rally in Manchester

Today is a day of public sector strike action in the UK.

The Great Strike of my generation, perhaps.

I support it.

(I’m going to write a bit more, but that’s going to be the gist, so if you’re in a hurry…)

Strikes in general are important. The most powerful weapon the ordinary worker has is the option to down his tools.

When negotiations aren’t working, when the powers that be aren’t being fair, that’s the only real thing that ordinary workers can do that will get their message heard.

Which means strikes are inconvenient, and public sector strikes all the more so.

Schools are closed, public transport is disrupted, hospitals are only open for emergencies – and so on. It’s annoying, especially if you really need one of those public services.

But that’s rather the point – strikes are inconvenient by design.

Public sector workers are an important part of Britain. There aren’t many aspects of British society which aren’t run or administered by a public servant of one description or another. And it’s because they’re so important, because their jobs are so vital, that we really notice when they’re on strike.

And that’s why we they deserve fair pay, fair pensions and a sensible retirement age.

It’s been said – correctly – that many in the private sector do not enjoy the same benefits as those in the public sector. In many cases (especially lower-paid workers), this is true. Although it may not be quite as true as you think:

How much is one of these ‘gold-plated’ public sector pensions currently worth, per year, do you reckon?
Just have a little think.

The basic state pension is  £5,312 per year, just to give you a bit of context.

The minimum wage works out at £12,650 per year, to give you a bit more.

The average estimate of a public sector pension is  £14,371  per year (according to a YouGov poll).
Sounds about right?

No.

The actual median public sector pension pays out £5,600 per year.

Now I know that the majority of private sector workers don’t have adequate pension provision, or have much riskier pension provision (with no guarantee of annuity)

But I can’t see how the solution to this disparity is “let’s make the public sector just as shit” – wouldn’t a better solution would be to raise standards (of pay, working hours and pensions) in the private sector?

If we’re ‘all in this together’ then I’m sure the government can find the money to help businesses help their workers.

Otherwise we really will all be in this together – when nobody has adequate pension provision, and the state is providing for every retiree.

Whatever we do, we shouldn’t be demonising ordinary workers just for demanding fair treatment, and we certainly shouldn’t be using the way the private sector treats its employees as some sort of monstrous benchmark…

Because the thing is – we are all in this together, we always have been.

Not because it’s a catchy government slogan they’re using to excuse horrific and excessive cuts to essential public services, but because the only reason governments and the rich pay any attention to the desires and needs of ordinary people is that there are millions of us.

That’s why uniting  and standing up for something important on days like today is so important – to show our government (and the right-wing media) that their plans to divide the working poor and set us against one another are not going to work.


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