Filed Under Polemics & Politics on November 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm
Before I explain my thinking on all this, I want to set the scene. I do work in the public sector, but I’m not a civil servant. I work in a university. I am on strike today, but I’m not out on the picket line. I voted against strike action, but I believe in democracy, so I’m respecting the strike, though not actively supporting it. It is true that people at the top of the public sector earn very high wages, but that is not true of people all the way down. To be honest, it’s just like the private sector. The plebs at the bottom struggling to pay their bills, and the fat-cats at the top compensating themselves generously. It’s also true that I get a good pension, but, it’s not a free pension. I pay for it each month, and on top of actually paying for my pension, I have to pay the pension levy too.
The reality is also that I took a pay cut already this year. It was not called a pay cut, but it was one, and even government ministers are saying so. Do I want another pay cut, perhaps even as high as 12%? Of course not! Would anyone? Do I think it’s fair the way the public sector are being singled out? Absolutely not. Do I accept that the public sector needs to save money, absolutely! Cutting wages is the easiest, and also the worst way of doing that. If anyone thinks the public sector is run as efficiently as possible, they are morons. Fixing the public sector is hard, cutting wages is easy. Fixing the public sector will help the country for years and decades to come, simply cutting wages won’t. Not even the public sector trade unions are arguing against a 1.3 billion cut for next year. The only thing they are arguing over is how it should be done. Yet, the government don’t seem to want to listen. Remember, paycuts are easy, reform is hard!
If you really want reform it will involve change. People HATE change, people naturally resist it. The unknown is scary! If you really want change, you need everyone to be on the same side, to trust each other. What will be the effect of an enforced pay cut? Simple, loss of trust, loss of morale, and loss of enthusiasm. Or, to put it another way, about as bad an environment as you could possibly imagine to get genuine, far-reaching public sector reform. That’s not what we need at all.
What about benchmarking? We all got pay rises under benchmarking, so clearly we need a cut now? Right? Perhaps. But, Benchmarking was not arbitrary. It was a complex process, and it looked at more than just pay. It took into account things like pensions and working hours and job security. I’m all for doing a rigourous process like that again. The media and politicians have the country believing the public sector is living in the lap of luxury. I really don’t think that’s true, so lets look at it scientifically, and get the facts. If benchmarking can work on the way up, why not on the way down too?
So Why Oppose the Strike?
So, clearly I don’t support the government, clearly I don’t support an arbitrary pay cut in the budget, so why don’t I support this strike?
Firstly, I know that the government has very successfully driven a wedge between the public and private sectors. They’ve turned worker against worker, rather than as it should be, the whole working class united against the government and their best buddies the bankers and property developers. As a country we’re on our knees because of the way the bankers and builders co-operated to try to squeeze so much money out of this country that it eventually collapsed. Neither could have done it on their own, or without help from the government. Yet, when you look at the news, it’s the public sector workers that are the bad-guys, the boogeymen, and probably, the fall-guys in this budget. We’re already public enemy number one, making life difficult for the whole country isn’t going to endear us to anyone!
What Alternative Then?
If not strike, what? I’d much prefer some form of industrial action that was less draconian, and that highlighted the fact that many in the public service go above and beyond the call of duty regularly. The simplest way I can think of to do that is a work to rule. We do exactly what we’re supposed to do by the letter of our contracts, and no more. Services would still be offered, life could go on, but I think it would soon become clear just how much the public sector do for this country, and in particular, how much more we do than we don’t have to do. If I’m wrong, and if we are indeed all a pile of wasters, then that would become obvious too. At least we’d be showing the strength of our conviction.
It’s All About a Sense of Fairness – Or Lack of it
Ultimately, what’s really needed is a sense of fairness. The reality is that you can’t tax the rich to get all the money we need to plug the hole in our budget. BUT, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. I think there should be a third rate of tax that kicks in for income earned above 100K. I think any public servant earning over 100K should get a pay cut. I know none of these things will be enough, but they should be done. If they were done, they would raise some money, but they would have a much bigger effect, they’d give a sense of fair-play.
I wouldn’t complain about a 3% cut in my wages if I could see that the rich were doing their part, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Realistically I will be helping carry the can for this country with a paycut of some sort in this budget, no matter what else the government do. What infuriates me is that it looks like the public sector will be carrying that can all on our own, while bankers get bonuses and those who profited from the destructive boom get to carry on as normal.
While on the subject of banks, another glaring example of a lack of fairness is the bank bailout. We are putting this country into MASSIVE debt to bail out the banks. They were the engine driving the boom, yet they managed to squander all the money and become insolvent! First they helped ruin the economy, then they expect to get bailed out by a crippled country. Some nerve!
Unfortunately, we NEED them. I hate that we do, but we do. In hind-sight I think we should have temporarily nationalised the lot a year ago, but that boat has sailed. So, we have to give them money, and we have to help them survive, even at massive cost to our future selves. But surely there should be some give-and-take? Surely, at the VERY least there should be concrete steps taken to prevent this ever happening again? Any fair-minded person wold agree with that IMO. But not bankers, or indeed our government.
All the money needs to be paid back when the banks are back on their feet, and we absolutely need to regulate them. The fact that we are in this situation now proves that our regulatory system failed totally. It clearly needs massive reform. Have you seen any? Have you seen any sign of any to come? Even any political promises of massive regulatory change in the nebulous future? Nope, me neither. Is that fair? Of course not! Is that adding to everyone’s anger? Of course it is! Does it have anything to do with this strike? Not directly, no – but indirectly it has everything to do with it.
There is a sense that the government have looked after their buddies, while demonising the public service. This reality is leading to a lot of anger, and that anger has contributed to this strike being called, and then voted for.
It all comes down to a total lack of fairness in how catastrophe is being managed. That’s the bottom line.