Guest post: Len McCluskey, dispelling some myths

Posted on Tue 29th Nov 2011, 11:00am
This is a guest post by Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union

When union members decide they want to strike, the media and government usually respond by perpetuating untrue stories. This time is no different. We have heard that the strike has no support from an inconvenienced public. We have heard that public sector pensions are gold-plated. We have heard that trade union leaders, like me, are undemocratically holding the country to ransom.

So let me start by dispelling these myths. It’s simply not true that the strike has no support. Yesterday, the BBC reported that 61% of the public is in favour of the strikes – that’s despite condemnation from nearly the entire mainstream media and without support from a single front-bench politician. I believe this is because people sympathise with the reasons for the strike: they’ve seen their living standards get squeezed while the rich get richer. They look at the teachers, lollipop ladies, and civil servants marching and then they look at the millionaires in cabinet, and they know which side to support. But it’s also because the labour movement consists of seven million people. Everybody in this country knows someone in a union, and most people know someone who is striking. Trade union members aren’t some inconvenient troublemakers making life hard for the public: they are the public. That’s another reason why the strike has so much support.

The second great myth is that public sector pensions are gold-plated. The government has been remarkably successful in convincing people that this is true. But it isn’t. The average public sector pension is only £5,600 a year, and it’s much less for women. If you want a definition of gold-plated, try the average CEO’s pension of £175,000. Why aren’t MPs outraged about that? At Unite, we want to fight for fair rights for everybody, not accept cuts in already modest pensions because the private sector isn’t good enough. We want the private and public sector to offer their employees better working rights, not use discrepancies to justify a race to the bottom.

Finally, to union leaders. A union is a democratic movement which works from the bottom up. Unite is striking because our members have told us they want to strike, not because we have told them they have to strike. Anyone who thinks I’ve forced our members to get out on the streets simply doesn’t understand the strength of feeling which has led to this strike in the first place. Nobody takes striking lightly, nobody wants to lose a day’s pay, but our members understand what is at stake. Our members are ready to fight. This isn’t just about the pensions of the strikers; it’s about the pensions of our children and grandchildren. This is about safeguarding a basic principle of fairness: if you give your working life to a job, you should receive a just pension when you retire. We cannot allow the government to take that important right away for no good reason.

For many of our members, the strike will be a new experience. They may be feeling nervous or shocked at the negative response from the government and media. That’s why solidarity is so important, and why UK Uncut’s Solidaritea is such a great idea. It’s a chance for non-striking workers to share the fight. The private and public sector needs to come together to strive for a fairer future for everyone. After all, as George Osborne once said, we are all in this together.

Guest post: Mark Serwotka on the N30 strike

Posted on Mon 28th Nov 2011, 3:42pm
This is a guest post by Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of The Public and Commercial Services Union

On 30 June, PCS held the best supported strike in our history. It wasn’t just well supported by our members, but by UK Uncut activists who organised ‘Big Society breakfasts’ for people on picket lines. That strike, the marches and rallies, and the public support gave people confidence.

The 30 November strike this Wednesday will be even bigger. In June we were striking alongside three education unions, this week it will be alongside nearly thirty unions: 3 million of us striking together. The issue that has unified us is an unjustified attack on our pensions which, as every independent audit has shown, are entirely affordable and sustainable. The government is telling us we must work longer and pay more to get a smaller pension.

The centrepiece of the government’s attack is a 3% tax on all public sector workers. Not a single penny of this will go into our pensions – it goes straight into the Treasury to pay for the deficit.

Public opinion is with us (61% to 36% according to the BBC) because there is a widespread feeling that we are paying for a crisis we played no part in causing. It is this sense of injustice that inspired UK Uncut – asking why ordinary workers pay their taxes, yet a super-rich elite avoids them.

The question is not whether we have a deficit, but who pays? Rather than tackle corporate tax avoidance, this government has announced a further £25bn in tax breaks to big business, while at the same time slashing the welfare budget by over £20bn. It is now introducing workfare – forcing the unemployed to work up to 30 hours a week just to get meagre benefits. Welfare claimants are organising to resist.

The Occupy actions across the UK are a further response to an economic system that has opened up huge inequalities, crashed the economy and is now demanding the rest of us pay. Students and young people are bearing the brunt: no jobs, extortionate fees and massive cuts to youth services. This period has also seen tax justice become a major campaigning issue, thanks to the inspirational direct action of UK Uncut, the largest student demonstrations in history, occupations breaking out all over the UK and the world, people on welfare and the disabled organising themselves to fight cuts – and Wednesday sees the largest strike action for a generation.

The challenge now is for us to work together and support each other to force this government to abandon the economic model that is devastating our communities. My union has supported each and every one of these campaigns. We need to build the solidarity ... and look forward to UK Uncut's ‘solidaritea’.

Trouble's brewing for the Government - solidariTEA with the strikers!

Posted on Sun 27th Nov 2011, 7:35pm
Prime Minister David Cameron has described Wednesday's strike, the biggest in this country since 1926, as “the height of irresponsibility”. Standing up against unfair and unnecessary attacks on your pension doesn't seem irresponsible - but here are a few things that are: Cameron keeps banging on about the disparity between private and public sector pensions as a reason for attacking the strike. If there's a problem, it's that private sector pensions in this country are a disgrace. That’s why people are striking under the slogan ‘Fair Pensions For All’:

Does Cameron even realise who he is telling to work for longer, pay more and earn less? He’s talking about lollipop ladies and headteachers, care assistants and university lecturers, teachers, construction workers and physiotherapists. They are pillars of our community. Without them, society would not function. We all rely on them. When the government attacks the unions, let's remember who they are talking about. The unions democratically represent ordinary people, people who collect our bins, look after us when we are sick and educate our children. They are librarians, nurses and dinner ladies. They are making a stand, and losing a day’s pay to boot.

But this strike is about more than just pensions. This is the biggest day of action yet against austerity- anyone interested in opposing the government's attacks on our public services should support the strike. Anyone outraged that the banks that wrecked our economy still haven’t been made to pay- whilst the rest of us are punished- should support the strike. Anyone outraged that the super-rich in this country consistently get away with dodging billions in tax should support the strike- the trade union movement has consistently been one of the most vocal voices calling for the government to tackle tax avoidance.

This strike is no storm in a tea cup- real trouble is brewing for the government if they continue to ignore the alternatives to dismantling our public services and slashing public sector pensions. The government and the banks have been mugging us off for too long. This Wednesday, take a flask of hot solidariTEA to the pickets and demonstrations, and don't forget to send in your images of support. Let's not fall into the government's divide-and-rule trap — we're all in this together, against them!
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