I'm on strike on Wednesday. For the first time in a career of over 20 years, I find that I'm a member of a union that has voted to strike. This may inconvenience you slightly. (The planned strike has, after all, been evaluated as likely to cost the economy about 17% of the cost to the economy of the Royal Wedding earlier this year. The Diamond Jubilee coming up next year will, I guess, be similarly inconvenient).In the past, it's been me that has had my day-to-day life disrupted by others' strike actions. From the memorable candles and lanterns of the "winter of discontent" in my childhood, to the special circle of commuter hell that's created whenever the transport unions call their members out. And I've never complained. I realise I'm probably a bit of an outlier in that respect, but I'm so completely clear about the importance of people having the right to withdraw their labour that even when I disagree with the principle a union is in dispute about, I fully support the right of members to down tools and raise placards instead. I have, in the past, crossed picket lines (boo, hiss) when their dispute has not been my dispute; you won't find me calling anyone a "scab" if they make a different decision from mine on strike day. But nor will I ever argue against a union's right – and duty – to fight on behalf of its members for "just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection". In case you're wondering where that phrase is quoted from, it's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Article 23 (3)). In any case, in my view the strike action my union and others are calling for is more than justified, which also justifies the inconvenience that goes with it. Why? The headlines make me feel despair: "One in five youngsters rated NEET", "Average salaries fall while corporate bosses see their pay rocket", "Take children to work, says David Cameron", "Give all my police tasers, says Met chief", "Cameron's war on employment rights", "Race variation in jail sentences", "Michael Gove to send copy of King James Bible to all English schools", "Welfare caps in London provide richest pickings for Conservatives"… The current Government is exploiting the economic crisis which arose from the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage bubble and the bank bailout that followed it. It is using the crisis to deepen and entrench social injustice in this country, to create further advantage for the already wealthy and to label and stigmatise those who have little in order to justify taking away what little they do have. The Government disguises some of this behind rhetoric which sounds egalitarian or which implies that it favours "social mobility", but every intelligent study of the impact of its policies shows otherwise. If you are already disadvantaged, this government's policies will make things worse for you. If you're already at the top end of the "haves" they want you to become one of the "have mores". For ordinary workers in public and private sector alike, salaries are freezing or dropping. Inflation makes the cuts feel bigger still. Our legal rights are under attack, our employment rights, our housing rights. Our access to justice is being stripped away, along with our access to healthcare and education. But…but…you may want to point out, these 'greedy' public sector workers arent striking about those issues, they are striking to preserve their 'gold-plated' pension! Well, that's partly because anti-union laws in this country are so rigid that union members are not allowed to strike about the kind of injustices outlined above. We may be seeing our caseloads getting larger, the vulnerable people we care for becoming more at risk; we may be finding the thresholds for service getting higher, the help we can afford to offer reducing; we may be despairing and angry at the numbers of people we could have helped two years ago but now have to turn away; we may be shocked at the ugly rhetoric government is using about our young people, our elderly, our sick, about the people who face challenges and difficulties and need our understanding and support but instead are condemned, vilified and required to struggle on alone. But we are not allowed to strike about any of these things. We can protest those things (as many of us did on 26 March) but we can only strike about matters which affect our terms and conditions. And we can only take co-ordinated strike action across multiple unions about those things that affect us all. Which is what brings pensions into the frame. But…but…how have we got the brass to strike about pensions when everyone knows how 'gold-plated' they are? Well here's some information which explodes some of those myths about public sector pensions: http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/publicsectorpensions.pdf Have a read before you make your mind up to condemn our action. (And if you're in the mood for myth-busting, try these about public & private sector pay too here: http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2009/12/more-about-public-versus-private-sector-pay/) Bottom line: we are all living longer (though the less well off, not so much), which does raise important questions about pension provision. As Chris Huhne put it on BBC Question Time the other night, we have to consider working longer OR paying more into our pensions OR receiving lower pensions. Of course, the Government is asking the public sector to work longer AND pay more into our pensions AND receive lower pensions. Which isn't quite the same thing. In short, if your private sector pension is crap, don't blame the public sector. Blame your employer, blame your pension provider and blame the Government. Then join a union. Then start shouting about your pension provision too! You'll find hundreds of thousands of us willing to stand alongside you. Radicalswstudent had a guest post in this blog which explains why the 30 November strikes are about more than just pensions. Read it here: http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/stand-up-stand-together-fight-back I agree completely with radicalswstudent's position that we need to stand together about all these issues. If the work these public servants do is so important that disrupting it for a day is unconscionable, perhaps the Government should reflect that in its bargaining position. And stop calling the public sector 'unproductive'. If the Government succeeds in breaking the unions over pensions this will create downward pressure on all pensions, and on wages in the public and private sectors alike. This Government is already making people work for free as part of "The Work Programme". How long before your job is under threat because the Government can coerce someone else to do it for nothing? If the thought of that bothers you, read this: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/ and consider whether some inconvenience on 30 November is a price worth paying to send the Government an important message. If your employer has threatened you with sanctions if you can't get into work on 30 November because of other people's strike action, don't blame the strikers (who are losing a day's pay themselves), blame your employer and blame the Government. Then join a union. Then start shouting about your rights as a worker too! You'll find hundreds of thousands of us willing to stand alongside you again. See how this solidarity thing works? Consider supporting the November 30 strike, even if you are not a member of a striking union. If you're wondering how, think about sharing a cup of Solidaritea with a picket: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/solidaritea Even though the unions have taken care to exempt essential workers and emergency activities from the strike to ensure public safety (yes, the Government hasn't been telling the full truth about that, has it?), there will certainly be some inconvenience caused when so many of these vital, though denigrated, public services pause for breath for one day. So, I apologise in advance for the inconvenience caused. It turns out that making the world a better place takes a bit of effort. If you put your shoulder to the wheel with us, we'll get the job done quicker. Imw
A guest post from radicalswstudent
Today in Chaos and Complexity, we thought about the boundary between the two, the point at which clients realise how close to the edge they are. It’s the point at which our interventions as social workers may be most successful.
As a sector, we’ve collectively reached that point and that realisation.
We’re all on the edge. I imagine every placement will be impacted on by the cuts, both those in the public and third sector. Our rights and those of our clients are being attacked by this government (and, y’know, governments in general but let’s not debate that now).
In less than a year’s time we’ll be on the front line, paying in to a pension fund (that I would quite like to keep), supporting clients (except we’ll be saying ‘no’ to increasing numbers of them), working in teams with reduced staffing, earning increasingly crappy wages in comparison to the cost of living and having (somehow) to wangle services from the bloated corpse of the NHS. That is, of course, if there are any jobs. If you don’t find one, expect to be farmed out to stack shelves in Tescos on the workfare scheme.
All of these things are as a result of a concerted attack on us by the ruling classes.
We need to stand up.
November 30th is when it all starts.
We need to stand together.
TWENTY FOUR UNIONS are going to be out on the 30th. That’s TWENTY FOUR groups of people who have had enough and see no alternative option to industrial action. Nurses, teachers, porters, social workers, physiotherapists, lecturers, refuse collectors, cooks, domestics, managers, podiatrists, radiographers, crossing guards, civil servants, police staff, housing staff, occupational therapists, paramedics, head teachers, accountants, HR managers, healthcare support workers, electricians, IT technicians, health visitors, psychologists, teaching assistants, clinical coders, receptionists, hygiene inspectors, parking medical secretaries, civil enforcement officers, benefit staff, speech and language therapists, estates officers, ward clerks, radiographers, teachers, the list keeps growing.
We need to fight back.
The ABSOLUTE NUMBER ONE way of doing this is not to cross a picket line that Wednesday. Please do not disrespect your colleagues, who not only withhold their labour for their own sake but for their clients, their families and their communities. Going to another office to work is pretty much the same thing.
I don’t just mean the picket line at your work, by the way. Don’t cross any picket. Here’s a leaflet about not crossing picket lines that some of your colleagues might find useful too http://solfed.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/dont_cross_picket_lines_a5.pdf
If you’re not going to cross a picket line (go you!) why not join it? (they are quite fun and sometimes you get cake).
If you don’t take the day off completely (which would be shiny), please consider swapping a study day and doing university work rather than anything to do with your placement. This has to be agreed with your placement of course.
People who feel they cannot strike because they work with vulnerable clients, think about this. What makes a person vulnerable? Our clients have a hell of a lot to lose. Part of their vulnerability is that for one reason or another, they need (or even depend on) assistance from the state – a state that doesn’t seem to care an awful lot. And does someone being vulnerable mean they’re apolitical? Look at the user movement, the more recent rise of Disabled People Against Cuts. Why not ask them what they think, and what they’d like you to do?
Our political leaders have never looked so empty. This is what happens when politics becomes PR.We are driven by soundbites and not ideas. Behind the soundbite there is nothing, so nothing gets done. "Doers" who make a real positive impact on society are disparaged by motormouths who value slogans and dividends. We crave the kind words of ratings agencies, who have no interest in human wellbeing. We would rate a profitable manufacturer of plastic Christmas cracker gifts as a better 'wealth creator' than a teacher or a nurse. We are already bankrupt. ***** (The morning papers light my fire & fuel my ire every day. This morning's provocation to the outburst above was these two stand-out pieces in the Observer. This breast-beating exposé of Greek anger and shame from Nikos Konstantaras: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/06/nikos-konstantaras-greeks-need-justice?INTCMP=SRCH And this crushing commentary from Andrew Rawnsley on the ineffectiveness of our supposedly 'most powerful' political leaders: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/06/andrew-rawnsley-world-leaders-powerless?INTCMP=SRCH Thanks to @RachCarter who thought the series of tweets above amounted to a rant worth preserving.)