We apologise for the inconvenience, we are trying to change the world.

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

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16 thoughts on “We apologise for the inconvenience, we are trying to change the world.

  1. Excellent and support you completely. I am one of thos disabled before used as a sacrifice for the greed of the ‘haves’. Will you contact me please? I am Pat from Pat’s petition…..Pat x

  2. Please, please support Pat’s Petition. This is a petition placed on the government’s own website. It calls for the government to "Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families". The link is herehttp://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

  3. <font size="2"><font face="verdana,sans-serif">@Pat – there is The Carers' Union: <a href="http://carersunion.org.uk/">http://carersunion.org.uk/</a&gt; <br><br></font></font><blockquote style="margin: 0pt 0pt 0pt 0.8ex; border-left: 1px solid rgb(204, 204, 204); padding-left: 1ex;" class="gmail_quote"> <i>&quot;We exist to campaign for better rights, support and information for you the <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><strong>unpaid carer</strong></span>. We aim to deliver the promise of the <a title="National Strategy for Carers 2008" href="http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_085338.pdf&quot; target="_blank">2008 National Strategy </a>- a life of your own. Why a Carers’ Union? Because we treat our members as a WORKFORCE, not cases for charity or means tested benefits and services. Charity can only take us so far – what we’re aiming to provide is an independent voice, independently resourced, owned and run by carers themselves&quot;</i></blockquote><div><br> And TUDA – Trade Union Disability Alliance: <a href="http://www.tuda.org.uk">http://www.tuda.org.uk</a><br><br><blockquote style="margin: 0pt 0pt 0pt 0.8ex; border-left: 1px solid rgb(204, 204, 204); padding-left: 1ex;" class="gmail_quote"> <p class="body" align="left"><i><span class="bodybold">&quot;TUDA's politics are based on the Social Model of Disability, rather than on a Charity or Medical Model of Disability.</span> <span class="bodybold">We believe that people are disabled by society’s barriers, not by our impairments. We want equal civil and human rights, not pity and charity.&quot;</span></i></p></blockquote>Best wishes,<br><br>Liz<br></div><span style="font-family:verdana,sans-serif"><div><span style="font-family:verdana,sans-serif"><br></span></div>I raise money for Communication Matters with Everyclick.com</span><br style="font-family:verdana,sans-serif"> <span style="font-family:verdana,sans-serif">Find out how you can help here: <a href="http://www.everyclick.com/communicationmatters&quot; target="_blank">http://www.everyclick.com/communicationmatters</a></span><div><br></div&gt; <div><img src="http://www.rcslt.org/giving_voice/docs/giving_voice_logo&quot; height="109" width="420"><br></div><div><a href="http://www.givingvoiceuk.org/&quot; target="_blank">http://www.givingvoiceuk.org/</a></div&gt;

  4. Apologies if this posts twice – by email did not seem to work.@Pat – there is The Carers’ Union: http://carersunion.org.uk/ "We exist to campaign for better rights, support and information for you the unpaid carer. We aim to deliver the promise of the 2008 National Strategy – a life of your own. Why a Carers’ Union? Because we treat our members as a WORKFORCE, not cases for charity or means tested benefits and services. Charity can only take us so far – what we’re aiming to provide is an independent voice, independently resourced, owned and run by carers themselves" And TUDA – Trade Union Disability Alliance: http://www.tuda.org.uk "TUDA’s politics are based on the Social Model of Disability, rather than on a Charity or Medical Model of Disability. We believe that people are disabled by society’s barriers, not by our impairments. We want equal civil and human rights, not pity and charity."Best wishes,Liz

  5. very cool post mate 🙂 Went down to the march earlier in London and it was great to see such a mix of people there. There have and continue to be been struggles for equality within the union movements which I think have led to the possibility of actions like today. In the past unions seemed to represent white blokes mainly, but now they represent a broad cross section of society.It’s good to see folk not being browbeaten but engaging in the debate. Hope you didn’t get too cold out in the thick of it…

  6. 🙂 Aww, thanks Noel. I’m toasty! I’ve been striking, but not marching today. A shame, because I would have liked to be in the thick of it, but I spent the day with the children who were off school because of the strikes and weren’t in marching mood.

  7. Hello Pat. I don’t know how to contact you. I’m not suggesting you leave an e-mail address on an open blog, but I’m not sure how to track you down.

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