The right to strike is a crucial tool in the armoury of anyone who sells their labour.
It’s been a few years since I went on strike. Before you picture a militant firebrand, weather-beaten by picket lines in the 70s and 80s, I’m actually only in my late twenties. But I’ve already taken part in industrial action on a handful of occasions. As a civil servant, I currently work for an agency of the Home Office which means I’m represented by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS). On Friday, PCS announced that they would be joining the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers, and the University and College Union in a day of industrial action over changes to public sector workers’ pensions on Thursday 30 June.
I’m sympathetic to industrial action where it’s appropriate and justified – my politics are very much on the left after all. My decision to strike along with many other colleagues on 30 June is far from a knee jerk reaction however. There have been plenty of strikes called by my union that I haven’t supported, but this is different. It’s all very well working until I’m 90 or so – I’m resigned to that anyway. But for the government to change the pensionable age for people after they have joined the pension scheme? It’s just not on.
My mother is in that category of women who will be most affected by the changes to the pension age. Born in October 1957, she’ll be forced to work until she’s 66. Being the sort of person who enjoys work I don’t suppose she’ll be too worried about the extra six years that the state requires of her. Even so, she’s not been planning for this sudden change in her financial arrangements all her life – and given that the Coalition’s brought forward Labour’s plans it’s even more of a shock. Just as well my stepfather is a financial adviser.
"Organised labour can and should use their legal right to withdraw their labour in a focused way when it’s the only tool at their disposal."
So why strike? The “it won’t change anything” argument is, to put it simply, hollow. I’m taking action not just in my own interests, but in the interests of my parents’ generation too. Organised labour – whether union members or not – can and should use their legal right to withdraw their labour in a focused way when it’s the only tool at their disposal.
The government have made it quite clear that they aren’t interested in negotiation, and what’s more, they’re hell-bent on undermining public sector pay. Looking at the bigger picture, the stagnation of the last year or so may be a good thing, given the gap “which was apparent eighteen months ago”. But even so, I haven’t had a pay rise for two years, and that becomes harder to bear as the cost of living goes up – particularly in London.
"The reality is that a huge number of public servants are earning nothing like the sums at the higher end of the spectrum – or anything like what David Cameron or his millionaire wife earns/"
Yet we’re still “all in this together” according to David Cameron, who continues to use every opportunity to bleat about public servants earning more than he does, when he’s not trying to relaunch the Big Society. The reality is that a huge number of public servants are earning more like the average £23,660 – nothing like the sums at the higher end of the spectrum – or anything like what he or his millionaire wife earns.
Why get bitter about all of this? I don’t plan on being a civil servant for the rest of my life. But when I took this job, I signed up to a package. It included certain stipulations around pay, pensions, terms and conditions, and now the income that will provide me with the basics when I’m dribbling into my soup is being seriously undermined.
I’ve kept my side of the bargain by turning up for work and doing my job to the best of my abilities. The government hasn’t, and they’re even trying to take away the democratic right to strike when union members justify it. I’ve every right to be angry.