Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some thoughts on N30

I doubt whether I've anything to say to this matter that hasn't been dealt with by others rather better and more comprehensively than I could but I'm finding the remorseless repetition of what have already become rightwing cliches has created an itch that demands to be scratched. Here's some of them in no particular order:

1) Low turnouts being used as a reason to cast doubt on the legitimacy of strike action and as an invitation to threaten more anti-union legislation.

The conclusion we can draw about people not voting is that they didn't vote and nothing else, since the procedure affords no opportunity to record why they didn't vote. I would have thought the reasons why politicians should refrain from going beyond this and casting themselves as the interpreters of the will of the silent would be obvious, but apparently not. All one can say is that if they insist that low turnout undermines the credibility of ballots, any rule that they propose to enact to remedy this should be applied consistently. Would any MEPs retain their seats if this were done, I'm wondering?

2) The strikes will cause disruption.

Um, well, yeah - that's generally the point of strikes. Next...

3) Day after dreary day we get some hack arguing that private sector workers would love to get pensions like wot we do in the public sector so why should they fund ours out of their taxes?

That it is often beeb jounos posing this question would tend to indicate that irony has taken a holiday from Auntie. I'm sure it's true that a lot of private sector workers would indeed love a pension scheme like ours. Yet amazingly they still continue to work in the private sector. While there are obviously a host of likely reasons for this, some of them presumably have to do with the fact that there are benefits to this that are absent in the public sector. A number of possible reasons suggest themselves but one might be that the relative stability and security of public sector work is traded off against higher rewards in terms of present income in the private sector?

Anyway, all this ignores the fact that the present arrangement forms part of a prior contract that the government is trying to shuffle out of. For the right it seems that the legal conventions of a contract shouldn't apply, if one of the parties in the agreement happens to be a trade union.

4) Public sector pensions are unaffordable

We've been down this road already with the tuition fees thing and it isn't a better argument now. If 'the country can't afford it' a sub-set of tax-payers can't afford it either. But the reality is that public sector pensions are declining as a proportion of GDP. I'm not really taking the deficit-reduction argument seriously anyway. No-one's suggested that once the 'structural deficit' has been eliminated, the original arrangement will be restored, are they?

Having said all this, I personally regret that my union along with all the others has focused narrowly on this issue. In my own case at least I wish they'd taken issue with the general package, which has to do with managers using the present situation to carry out a more general erosion of the wages and conditions of workers. In our case, this has been demonstrated in pay freezes for us (i.e. real wage cuts), nominal pay cuts for temp staff (i.e. real wage cuts with bells on), demands for useless rituals of presenteeism and the insistence that we should be 'flexible' and do tasks that we never stopped doing - as well as the raid on our pension schemes, which are just deferred wages, after all. It's for all of these reasons I'm going on strike on Wednesday. I appreciate many will disagree with this but I'm sure we can find some common ground...

5) Strikes will cost the UK economy £500 million!

Given that this claim is being made by the sort of people who routinely dismiss the public sector as 'unproductive', surely we can and must insist that they can't have it both ways?

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