Tuesday 22 November 2011

Remember, Remember the 30th of November

I was asked to outline to the Students Union why lecturers are going on strike, I think they wanted a rabble rousing speech on why they should come and join us, this is what they got instead...

The first thing I going to do is to disappoint you. This is not a call to arms. As an employee of this college I can not ask you to join me on the picket line or march with me to a rally. I can tell you that the college will be open as normal.

To be fair what would have some effect would be for you to turn up to lessons as normal if your lecturer is on strike then go find a manager who will have had to actually cross a picket line to get to work and ask them to teach you something about the subject that you have.

What I can do is outline some the reasons we are taking this action.

Going on strike is a last resort, Public sector workers get into the public sector to serve the public by teaching them, nursing them back to health, and doing day to day tasks that people take for granted like collecting rubbish and recycling and administering housing benefit and child tax credit. In stark contrast to the financial services sector we in the public sector and in we are not motivated by money, we are motivated by a desire to help others. We don't go on strike for a laugh or a day off, we are fully aware that in striking we are in breach our contract and that our pay will be docked. And that the people we serve will have to do without. We are forced to withdraw our labour because of injustice.

It is unjust that in order to pay off a deficit that was accrued in bailing out banks after bankers took insane risks in pursuit of their next bonus, should be paid for by raiding the pension pots of people who had no part in creating the problem, This is a crisis of capitalism yet capitalism is not changed by the crisis; it is the people who suffer.

Its important to realise that The government are not proposing changes to new pensions but wholesale changes to existing pensions which public sector workers have paid into for years and in some cases almost all of their working lives. A strike on pensions is pretty good value for money, you lose a days pay but if we stand aside and the government change the terms of our pensions then we are set to lose much more than that, for the whole of our lives after retirement. Just some figures

A 26 year old lecturer A who has paid into the pension for 4 years could lose £176,000

Pension cuts don’t make much economic sense either, pensioners spending power actually boost the economy, ask anyone who runs a B+B or a coach tour company.

Politicians will object to the strike and I relieved that Labour have not said these strikes are wrong this time around: what I would say to politicians who try to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Industrial action is that strike action is democratic; it is members who are balloted and it is us, not politicians, who decide if, and when industrial action is necessary.

I will now share some of the reasons why staff have voted yes for strike action, you might think that the reasons for balloting and striking are one in the same but the reasons behind balloting for strike action and the reasons for putting an X in a box on a ballot paper are seldom the same

I am a trade unionist I will always vote yes if strike action is balloted for simply because if a union ballots members and the members don’t vote for strike action then the union would appear weak and negotiation form a position of strength is clearly more effective than negotiation from a position of weakness. This can be seen that in that the government refused to budge on the pension reforms until the main public sector unions had balloted their members (incidentally Lecturers already voted in favour of strike action before the pension dispute even hit the news).

Other reasons for putting an X in the strike action box could be to send a message not only to the government but also to management, Staff are angry about restructures regrading leading to pay cuts and redundancies so they vote yes out of anger. Another reason that staff may strike is in solidarity. Public sector workers are not massive wage earners, our pensions are better than in the private sector for the same level of pay, it takes no account that private sector wages and therefore end salaries are better in the private sector logically this should trigger legislation to make private pensions better.

The public/private debate is a smokescreen anyway. A smokesrceen peddled by a government desperate to drive a wedge between the public and private sector because if they can paint public sector workers as being lazy and having gold-plated pensions then it will garner support for the wider cuts agenda which remember we are in the at the start of a 4 year onslaught of cuts to services that are relied upon.

The changes being made difficult for any subsequent government to reverse. I don't really think about my own retirement much but on on strike days I get up unfeasibly early in the morning, for a pensions strike, the mind has a tendency to wander: I wonder about your pensions Are the government just going to keep upping the retirement age for those who cant afford early retirement..? Will you just all work until you die..? Chilling thoughts on chilly mornings.

There are however reasons to be optimistic, reasons to be cheerful even, People who stand up for what is right, people who speak out and people who protest have always been a disparate bunch, small gangs of people saying thing like...'Equal rights for women' 'Ban the Bomb' 'Give Peace a Chance' Save the Fox' Save the Whale' 'Save the polar bear' 'Anarchy in the UK!' 'save mining jobs' 'Stop the poll tax'. It is rare that 'the people' speak with one voice, the protest movement that we are seeing grow around the world approaches this rather idealistic vision of one voice.

These cuts are so wide ranging that a wide range of people have responded. If we look at the cuts in chronological order from birth to death then there are Cuts to maternity provision, cuts to children services, cuts to EMA Cuts to tuition fees, cuts in number of jobs leading to high unemployment cuts to pensions and cuts the effective cuts to the NHS and to old people homes though privatisation so that shareholders can make a profit out of tax revenue.

For the first time in my lifetime there IS one voice. For one day on Wednesday next week we will stand together in solidarity, For one day we may have found a temporary cure from that most persistent and damaging of human conditions that is apathy. And I would love to stand here and finish with something like 'students of the world unite and join us' but we all know, I can't do that.

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