Strike!

This week we have been told by the BBC that 61% of the public support today’s joint action. That’s good, but not good enough – the attack by government on public sector workers is also an attack on the public services they provide, and that affects the vast majority of the population.

The main tactic being used by the coalition is one of divide and rule as they repeat time and time again that public sector workers are ‘lucky’ to be in receipt of such ‘generous’ pensions and bemoan the lot of the private sector worker. Yet it is the rapacious capitalism of the neoliberal project they are engaged in that has seen terms and conditions worsen for private sector workers over the last three decades.

The facts are that the average public sector pension is less than £6000pa, and this takes into account the larger pensions paid out to high ranking public servants (and MPs of course… ). The vast majority of public sector workers are not living a life of luxury at ‘our’ expense, they are getting a bit extra in their retirement that they have paid for in terms of both their own contributions and the taxes they paid over their working lives. And speaking of contributions, it has been calculated by the NUT that over the life of their pensions scheme teachers have paid in £46bn more than has been paid out. Where’s that gone? To the government in ‘cheap loans’. I remember when I worked for BT there was a regular surplus in the pension fund that would be creamed off by the company, a common practice in the private sector. Perhaps if the money had been left in private industry pension funds there wouldn’t be such a problem paying them now? Too obvious? Maybe, I’m no economist (although neither is George Osborne).

Public sector pensions were fought for and granted as deferred wages in light of the then detrimental pay gap in favour of private sector workers. The wages may not be up to much, but stick at it, work hard for 40 years and you’ll have some security in retirement. That the gap has narrowed or even gone the other way in some cases is not as a result of ‘greedy’ public sector workers, but a change in the job base in the private sector which has seen more highly paid, skilled jobs in manufacturing disappear to be replaced by lower paid jobs in the retail and service sectors – factor in that the new mass employers are virulently anti union and utterly focused on cutting costs and maximising profit, and it’s hardly surprising that wages and terms have become worse for their employees.

But this is not the fault of the public sector, no matter how much a government of any hue tries to convince you it is. A false opposition is being set up between public and private when in reality all should be opposed to the savage cuts being made to public services. The strike today may nominally concern pensions, but the actuality is that it’s been seen as a stand against the ongoing attempt by neoliberal governments, guided by their ‘paymasters’ the IMF, WTO and World Bank, to marketise anything and everything and rid those at the top of ‘unproductive’ public services.

Essential public services shouldn’t make profits and they shouldn’t be made subject to market forces. We have seen for years now the result of the privatisation and marketisation of the utilities, our bills on a constant upward trend while record profits are announced each year. People will die this winter because they are scared to put their heating on, all so that the needs of the shareholders are met. It’s immoral, sickening and degrades our society.

Speaking of society, what about Cameron’s ‘Big’ one, his wildly innovative idea to bring us all together? We’ve had the ‘big society’ before and it didn’t work, that’s why the welfare state was created, why essential services were nationalised; in order to provide a more equal society where your health, education and living standards were not at the mercy of the circumstances you were born into, perhaps to be alleviated by more enlightened and socially aware heads of industry if you were lucky. Even with the welfare state in place lack of social mobility and opportunity still exist according to status (class), but it is/was an attempt to even things out to some extent.

This is the context in which we must see today’s and any future actions, as part of the fight to preserve services that are essential to all of us and that we have all invested in over the decades. The myth being peddled by the government that public sector workers are greedy and that the offer being made is generous (backed up by misleading ‘facts’ from the likes of Osborne and Clegg) needs to be challenged at every turn and the point made that the attack on public services is an attack on each and every one of us, regardless of the sector we work in: it is vital that we do not let the the divide and rule tactics and misinformation being peddled by the coalition succeed.

See below links for sources used in the writing of this piece.

£46bn surplus in teachers’ pension fund

Tax Research on public sector pensions

Public sector pensions are affordable

Government misinformation on pension deal

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