You can always tell when there’s a strike on by the number of Conservative politicians coming out to call for turnout thresholds on strike ballots — something they always seem to be reticent to talk about the same for their own elections. But yes, some million public sector workers are set to walk out today, over pay, pensions and terms and conditions.
And I absolutely support them in doing so.
This is my view, obviously, not the view of any other group or party, but yes — I support the strikes.
They are undoubtedly disruptive, getting in the way of people’s lives and routines. That’s basically the point. And my every sympathy goes to those who have had their days disrupted by strike action, but the fault — I think — does not lie with the strikers.
It lies with the government.
It is an article of faith for Conservatives since Thatcher that the trades union are bad, and this government came to power on a refusal to work with the representatives of workers. The irony of their now shoehorning “hard-working people” (hyphen optional, apparently) into every sentence apparently goes unnoticed when those hard-working people are members of a union and want fair pay and working conditions.
I don’t back every strike. I look at the reasons, the arguments, and make up my own mind.
Yes, the intransigence of the government influences me a lot, Tory MPs voting through caps on pay increases for public sector workers whilst awarding themselves huge increases and still fiddling their expenses. Yes, the statements of the likes of Michael Gove that only bad teachers apparently want fair pay and conditions is infuriatingly laughable. Yes, it is absurd that certain politicians have tried to rewrite the history of the recession to be the fault of public sector workers, rather than overpaid prima donnas in the financial sector. Yes, this is a government which has tellingly taken apart piece by piece the legislation designed to protect employees from unfair and exploitative action by their employers.
I passed the picket line at Southend Council today, as I walked to the station. The people there weren’t dangerous subversives, they weren’t greedy, lazy or whatever other pejorative adjectives have been applied. They were workers; worried about their jobs and pay and conditions. I’m not sure those are worries unique to workers in the public sector.
This is, I feel, also a good time to revisit one of my own hobby horses; the living wage. I support a living wage. I believe that the minimum wage should be the living wage, because what is the point of a minimum wage which is too little to live off? The arguments that it would break the economy and cost jobs should be viewed in light of the mistakenly apocalyptic predictions about the introduction of the minimum wage.
I hope, too, that Southend Council — of whose new administration Labour is a junior partner — will introduce the living wage. I hope that they make it a requirement of the contracts it makes with private firms that they too pay their employees a living wage. I want to see those on the lowest pay given enough to live on, which doesn’t sound quite as radical as it is being made out to be.
So yes, I support today’s strikes. And I hope, before you make up your mind, you’ll do some reading around the subject. Whose side are you on; a cabinet of millionaires, or a million and more teachers, local government workers and fire fighters?