Live blog on November 30th strike

Posted on Wed 30th Nov 2011, 8:48am

Guest post: Why I'm striking

Posted on Tue 29th Nov 2011, 5:00pm
This is a guest post from two public sector workers taking part in strike action tomorrow

In September of this year I started working as a Learning Support Assistant in an inner-London comprehensive school. More precisely, I started working with 4 students in year 7 who are on the autistic spectrum. I also joined UNISON and so on the 30 November I will be striking. I encourage everyone else in the public sector to do likewise.

Official figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week showed that the pay of the top tenth of earners rocketed 18 times faster than the bottom tenth. At the same time, the UK average income has fallen by 3.5% in real terms. These figures are appearing because the Tories represent the rich and have utter contempt for normal working people. Their attack on pensions is another savage example of this. My pension, unlike George Osborne’s, will not be £33,000 a year. I cannot afford to work for longer, pay more for my pension and subsequently receive less. Like so many others, I am striking because I simply cannot afford not to.

The Con-Dem coalition as well as the majority of the mainstream press have and will continue to attempt to undermine the strike with myths and lies, claiming the strike is unnecessary and that those who are striking are immoral and selfish. But millions of workers across the country have seen through these vicious lies and have voted for strike action.

On November 30 I will be proud to be on strike. I will be proud to be part of the largest strike since the general strike of 1926. I will be proud to march next to teachers, support staff, nurses, civil servants, pensioners, students and private sector workers. I will be proud to be part of the growing resistance to austerity and cuts.

I am a 24 year old youth worker in Hackney, and I am going to be taking strike action for the first time on November 30. It might seem odd for a 24 year old to be angry about pensions, but this is not an isolated issue. We have been told that providing a decent pension for workers is something that the country cannot afford. There are some things that society cannot afford, but pensions should not be one of them. The High Pay Commission recently released a report that despite the financial crisis executives’ pay packets have remained high and grotesque banker bonuses are still very much the norm. The government say that the public purse has to save, yet they continue to pursue their needless costly ‘restructuring’ proposal for the NHS. And at least £25 billion of tax is dodged by the wealthy every year.

The mainstream media portrays the governments’ ongoing cuts agenda, ‘restructuring’ projects and demonstrations of public anger as isolated stories. But they’re not; they are all part of a bigger picture.

On November 30 over 3 million public sector workers are set to go on strike. We are trying to bring the country to a stand still for one day, a day to highlight the danger posed by this government. Without large scale public resistance, the government will continue its war on public services. We are standing up against the cuts, in defence of our public services, in defence of a good pension for everybody.

Why don’t you come join us? Or at least bring us a cup of tea!

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.
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