Voices from the Occupation
Strike While the Irony is Hot
~ A Banker, a School Teacher and an Immigrant are sat around a table. In front of them is a plate, on which there are ten biscuits. While the School Teacher and the Immigrant aren’t looking, the Banker scoffs nine of the biscuits, then turns to the School Teacher and whispers in her ear ‘watch out, that immigrant is after your biscuit’ ~ Anon
As we approach Big Wednesday, the 30th November public sector workers strike estimated at between 2 and 4 million workers, the media frenzy has well and truly kicked off. This article looks at the irony of anti-strike arguments, the reasons given for striking and avoiding strike action, and what it takes to make a difference.
What’s All the Fuss About Anyway?
If you were to listen to Francis Maude or Danny Alexander, you would think that a bunch of overfed, privileged, civil servant ‘Humphreys’ were holding a poor government and country to ransom, to hold selfishly on to their ‘gold plated pensions’. This, while ‘others are making the sacrifices necessary in this time of austerity’
Now, I have spoken to several public sector workers who share this belief and will not be striking on Wednesday, because they feel it is their duty to give up something important to them in the name of ‘the greater good’. This misguided altruism, no not misguided, manipulated altruism, makes me so sad I could actually cry.
The actual pension deal is thus – pay more, work longer, get less. Why? To pay down the deficit. It is equal to a 3% tax rise on the lowest paid workers of the land. The nurses, the care assistants, the bin men, the teachers, the folk that grow things, teach our children, take care of us when we are sick, the people we call when we have been robbed, who pull us out of burning buildings.
After a real terms pay decrease over the last 4 years; not content with undermining their wages, now we are turning on their security in old age.
But Aren’t We All in This Together?
No. We are most definitely not. At the same time, Dave Hartnett and the HMRC have been courting the corporate world. Hartnett personally attending more than 107 lunches over 2 years, making sweetheart deals allowing massive tax avoidance for those self same corporations. Recently, a brave HMRC whistle blower reported this scandal to the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Margaret Hodge. If you want one reason to strike, then please take the time out of your life to watch Dave Hartnett’s testimony to the Committee.
Goldman Sachs were letoff £10bn and upwards in unpaid interest on outstanding tax which they had refused to pay for over 5 years. Vodafone, £8bn. These are only the stories which we get to hear about through the courage and commitment of those inside the HMRC willing to risk whatever it takes, to get these stories out. We have no right, according to Dave Hartnett, to know any more than that.
In the last Budget, taxes across the board went up, Corporate Tax went down.
In the last week, Northern Rock, a bank we bought to save from collapse- was sold. We were told that we would buy the bank to save the financial Armageddon that would ensue if it collapsed. We the tax payer handed over £1.4bn for this. In the intervening years, Northern Rock has been split into the Good bank – no bad debt, good chance of making a bob or two, and the Bad bank - all the toxic mortgages and investments destined to implode. We were told we would one day make a profit on the sale of this bank and all would come good.
Actually, George Osborne just sold THE GOOD BANK to Richard Branson for a paltry £747m, practically half what we paid for it. Branson has issued an IOU for a further £280m at some point in the future. But worse even than all that, is the fact that we, the tax-paying public keep the Bad Bank. That means we stay on the hook for the £20bn of toxic debt on its books, just waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it will.
So…it’s Just the Small Guy Who Needs to Pay up?
Correct. When arguments are put forward, such as the Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions, or a one off billionaire’s tax to restore the public purse, we are told that this is unfair. These taxes would hurt growth. They would lead to us being uncompetitive in the global market place leading to an exodus of financial services companies from the shores of Britain.
But suggest a public sector pensions cut? Suggest ‘cutting back the red tape’ – shorthand for the revocation of hard won workers rights such as minimum wage, employment tribunal and job security? Suggest shovelling debt onto the young shoulders of our citizens attempting higher education by tripling, yes, tripling their annual fees? Suggest paying less per old person than the actual cost of their residential home care, forcing homes into closure? Suggest any of these things, and they are likely to become policy faster than you can say ‘where’s my wallet gone?’
It is a truism that in Capitalism, resources go to those who can best afford them. Over time and through deregulation of the meagre protections those without that wealth had, the system has gone into overdrive. It is sad, but true, that most institutions, financial and political right now, exist as vacuums sucking wealth and resources into the arena of those already with it, away from those with far less of it. The arena becomes ever smaller and further away from those outside of it, every day of every year. The arena used to be the West. Now it is a tiny supra national community.
Privatised Profits, Socialised Losses
So, consider that the response to the financial crisis in 2008, to bail out the banks, was the largest single wealth redistribution exercise in history. From the have somes, to the have-yachts. Not content (for there is never enough wealth to attain) with this – the redistribution continues. Right now, through quantitative easing, the UK government is pumping money in the hundreds of billions of pounds into the Banking Sector and it isn’t coming out the other end. Our public services are being sold off at a loss to private companies – for their private profit. Taxes are being cut and wages are being increased for the sector of our society providing us with the least productivity and costing us the most. In this context, with an understanding of the full historical and contemporary picture – the question is not ‘why would you strike?’…it is ‘why on earth would you not?’
But Won’t it Put People Out? Isn’t the Timing Just Wrong?
This argument, put forward by Danny Alexander this week, among others is simply ludicrous. In April this year, the royal family granted us ALL a day off simply to watch a wedding. The world didn’t stop, the media was not covered in stories about what the bank holiday would cost and what inconveniences it would cause. No. So, when the day off is about withdrawing labour as a rebuke to poor treatment en masse, the inconvenience and cost is the very point. It is a reminder that your contribution matters. That those hours each day you spend toiling away count for something. That you make a difference that doesn’t get made without you being there. Frankly, they should be thanking their lucky stars people aren’t striking for a week, given the level of hypocrisy and injustice people are undergoing right now. Well, perhaps not their lucky stars, but certainly their sycophantic media outlets piping this horrid Blitz spirit nonsense into the collective ‘kool aid’.
I Get it. I Want to Strike. How?
Firstly, you need to join your union. You should be able to find this out through your employer's website or on-site union representation. Join, then just do not go to work on Wednesday 30th November. There is a massive march planned leaving from Lincolns Inn Fields, London at 12pm…but there are also many many actions taking place across the country. Find out, get involved and make your voice heard. Please don’t leave it to those more vocal or naturally leaning to direct action, to make this difference for you. Every single person that strikes, every single person that marches, makes a personal difference. Your voice is your own, bring it. This is not a battle between an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, it is a raising of the quieter voices so that WE as a society can recreate ourselves, such that we attain a world that truly works for everyone. We cannot do it without you.