Today I have been out supporting the Public Sector strikers in Warwickshire. Some passers-by came up to the picket line to show their support.
However, listening on the radio, a number of people have been hostile towards strikers. There have been three points people have made against the strikes:
1) “There’s no money”
The ‘cuts’ mantra has been drip fed to us daily for the last four years:
“In these times of austerity, when there is less money around, we have to face up to reality, we can no longer afford to do this, we all have to tighten our belts…”
The clear implication when applied to public sector pay is ‘don’t complain and ask for more than your lot, you’re being greedy and risking a recovery’. The thing is, there is money – it’s just in the wrong places.
- FTSE 100 CEO average pay has risen to £4.5m per annum.
- Senior merger and acquisition banker bonuses have risen to an average £305000 on top of a £100,000 starting salary.
- We’ve seen an endless list of corporations avoiding paying income tax which could close the deficit gap. Nandos is the latest on that list this morning.
The UK’s GDP has just about recovered to where it was in 2008 before the recession. We’ve got higher national debt to repay, but there’s still a lot of wealth in the UK to make those payments.
In 1625 the great Francis Bacon wrote:
‘Money is like muck. Not good except it be spread’
The same is true today and after a 3 year pay freeze equating to a 17.5% cut in real terms, mostly low paid workers are well within their rights to be calling for a fairer share for the jobs they do.
2) “Public Sector workers are better paid than those in private sector jobs”
True. On average public sector employees are better paid, but this is not an excuse to stay quiet and ‘level down’. Public sector wages and terms and conditions should be a benchmark for all. It’s ironic that when some on ‘the left’ oppose private or grammar schools ‘the right’ say that you shouldn’t level down in the name of equality. But when it comes to wages that argument suddenly doesn’t apply.
Let’s work together to deal with low pay across the board. Employees in the private sector are just as able to strike as those in the public sector, but are historically less unionised. That needs to change.
3) “the strike is disruptive and damaging”
People have to take a day off work because school is closed or can’t go to the library or the swimming pool. Yes, this can be disruptive, but low pay is far far more damaging. Millions try and juggle electricity and food bills with the added stress of paying the extras for a school trip or children’s birthday.
Low pay isn’t about not being able to afford a holiday – it’s about constantly living on the edge of surviving at the end of the month. Debt causes arguments, stress and relationship breakdowns. Witness the surge in CAB divorce advice when the first post-Christmas credit card bill hits the mat at the end of January each year.
Fuel, food and rent/mortgage rises have driven inflation which is exactly what the low paid spend the lion’s share of their wage on. A pay freeze for 3 years is catastrophic for millions of families.
Taking one day’s strike action to try and get a fairer deal for the next three years was a sacrifice in itself for many. I was humbled by a number of strikers juggling childcare and travelling long distances because they thought it was worth taking a stand. Many of them told me that they were doing it for their colleagues in the same team as them who didn’t feel able to strike because they didn’t feel able to lose a day’s pay.
Proud to support
We may tentatively be entering an economic recovery, but how we share the wealth in that recovery is crucial. It’s time to stop falling for ‘The Myth of No Money’ and start working for a more equal society where every person gets paid a fair wage whether in the public or private sector.
The people I met today on strike demonstrations were at the forefront of taking a stand to end damagingly low pay and I am proud to support them.