Today I have been out supporting the Public Sector strikers in Warwickshire. Some passers-by came up to the picket line to show their support.
However, listening on the radio, a number of people have been hostile towards strikers. There have been three points people have made against the strikes:
1) “There’s no money”
The ‘cuts’ mantra has been drip fed to us daily for the last four years:
“In these times of austerity, when there is less money around, we have to face up to reality, we can no longer afford to do this, we all have to tighten our belts…”
The clear implication when applied to public sector pay is ‘don’t complain and ask for more than your lot, you’re being greedy and risking a recovery’. The thing is, there is money – it’s just in the wrong places.
- FTSE 100 CEO average pay has risen to £4.5m per annum.
- Senior merger and acquisition banker bonuses have risen to an average £305000 on top of a £100,000 starting salary.
- We’ve seen an endless list of corporations avoiding paying income tax which could close the deficit gap. Nandos is the latest on that list this morning.
The UK’s GDP has just about recovered to where it was in 2008 before the recession. We’ve got higher national debt to repay, but there’s still a lot of wealth in the UK to make those payments.
In 1625 the great Francis Bacon wrote:
‘Money is like muck. Not good except it be spread’
The same is true today and after a 3 year pay freeze equating to a 17.5% cut in real terms, mostly low paid workers are well within their rights to be calling for a fairer share for the jobs they do.
2) “Public Sector workers are better paid than those in private sector jobs”
True. On average public sector employees are better paid, but this is not an excuse to stay quiet and ‘level down’. Public sector wages and terms and conditions should be a benchmark for all. It’s ironic that when some on ‘the left’ oppose private or grammar schools ‘the right’ say that you shouldn’t level down in the name of equality. But when it comes to wages that argument suddenly doesn’t apply.
Let’s work together to deal with low pay across the board. Employees in the private sector are just as able to strike as those in the public sector, but are historically less unionised. That needs to change.
3) “the strike is disruptive and damaging”
People have to take a day off work because school is closed or can’t go to the library or the swimming pool. Yes, this can be disruptive, but low pay is far far more damaging. Millions try and juggle electricity and food bills with the added stress of paying the extras for a school trip or children’s birthday.
Low pay isn’t about not being able to afford a holiday – it’s about constantly living on the edge of surviving at the end of the month. Debt causes arguments, stress and relationship breakdowns. Witness the surge in CAB divorce advice when the first post-Christmas credit card bill hits the mat at the end of January each year.
Fuel, food and rent/mortgage rises have driven inflation which is exactly what the low paid spend the lion’s share of their wage on. A pay freeze for 3 years is catastrophic for millions of families.
Taking one day’s strike action to try and get a fairer deal for the next three years was a sacrifice in itself for many. I was humbled by a number of strikers juggling childcare and travelling long distances because they thought it was worth taking a stand. Many of them told me that they were doing it for their colleagues in the same team as them who didn’t feel able to strike because they didn’t feel able to lose a day’s pay.
Proud to support
We may tentatively be entering an economic recovery, but how we share the wealth in that recovery is crucial. It’s time to stop falling for ‘The Myth of No Money’ and start working for a more equal society where every person gets paid a fair wage whether in the public or private sector.
The people I met today on strike demonstrations were at the forefront of taking a stand to end damagingly low pay and I am proud to support them.
3 thoughts on “Why I support the strikers – by Jonathan Chilvers”
Thank you, Jon, for taking the trouble to bring together some aspects of this that are carefully kept apart. I shall quote you, e.g. on GDP recovering so far ahead of wages for the lower paid. I like the link you make between different things ‘levelled down’ – or not.
I’ve just had a stark reminder of the unequal distribution of the considerable wealth of our small country having returned to Surrey from 2 days visiting friends in one of the poorer districts of Liverpool.
Here on a Guildford Council Estate the budget for our much needed Children’s Centre is fairly secure, for which we are grateful – in Liverpool the budget for all their (even more greatly needed) Children’s Centres is in process of shrinking by >85% within the life of this government.
Liverpool has fantastic museums and galleries – well worth a visit – and as a friend there said, don’t begrudge the cost of parking, it goes to the city – a good cause!
Funny, I saw a lot of ’14’ plates and a lot of Aston Martins on my travels.
I’ve worked in the public sector for the whole of this issue, I have had more money year on year as have most of my colleagues. Whilst there have been no pay rises what there has been is pay progression. I can’t talk for other Local Authorities but mine has been around £500 a year. The only time this stopped was when I hit the top of my pay band, granted I’d like to get more but I’m getting paid well for what I do.
Recently we switched so that instead of our progression being automatic we needed to get a good review. I think this is a positive move and requires people to get good reviews if they want to be rewarded with more money.
Granted over the period my pension deal has changed but it’s still an awesome pension, just not quite as awesome as the one I signed up for.
I have options though, if I don’t like it I an go work somewhere else. As does everyone else who was on strike. (Granted technically I didn’t cross the picket line as I was on holiday picking up a new motorbike but that’s not the point).
There are some people who are getting screwed, the deal the firefighters are being given is terrible and I totally support them. I also agree that teachers are getting screwed but not over money, they are being screwed because the whole education system is broken, I could support a strike on that issue but for everything else there is no excuse.
Hi Steve and Chris, thanks for the comments.
Chris: I agree with you re: performance related progression and have written about it before: https://resistanceandrenewal.net/2012/04/24/dont-buy-the-lies-about-executive-pay-reward-people-for-the-contribution-they-make/
However, many very low paid workers both directly employed by local authorities and in contracted out services simply don’t have a clear career progression and are in very tight pay bands offering only a small number of increases. Cleaners, home care workers, lollipop people, lunchtime assistants etc. This isn’t a tiny minority of workers either – Warwickshire County Council directly employs over 1000 people on less that £7.45ph let alone the people who are contracted out.