A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who said, “I’m going on strike on 10 July.”
I was so surprised (this person is a former Tory party member and about as un-militant as you can get) that I asked for a guest blog post.
Here it is, without any further comment from me. At least, for now.
Why I am joining the public sector strike today
I am a public servant. Like the majority of my colleagues, I take this service very seriously although you may find this hard to believe if you have been reading the Daily Mail and listening to the government over the past few years. Up until now I have always voted against strike action. I believe in consultation and negotiation as preferred ways to bring about change. It is because the government will not engage with the unions and instead its ministers prefer to run down the public sector (in both senses), that I will be on strike today for the first time in my life.
Run down is a good way to describe how many of my colleagues in schools, hospitals and other vital services are feeling. As the cost of living increases and cuts to staffing and services are made, they bear the brunt of public dissatisfaction and contempt from Conservative ministers. Apart from the lowest paid (who are really low-paid) they are suffering a pay freeze which began four years ago and, if we are to believe what we read, will go on until 2018.
The Office for National statistics and Incomes Data services disagree over how much pay in the private and public sectors has risen or not risen as was recently pointed out in the Guardian. Duncan Brown of the CIPD says his evidence shows that the public over-estimates pay levels in the public sector. To add insult to injury, the government requires its servants to spend more public money if a cheaper options might look ostentatious. Did you know that civil servants are not allowed to take the cheapest train fare if that happens to be first class but must choose a more expensive, standard class fare? (No, I don’t understand train ticket pricing either but that’s for another day!)
This is all fascinating stuff but in my experience parties with different agendas could talk statistics until the end of time without reaching agreement and it is not the difference between sectors – real or perceived – which spurs me to take action tomorrow. Rather it is the absolute contempt with which the public sector is treated in the press and in statements from ministers and their accompanying attempts to pit private sector against public sector. Just think of the language used about civil servants, who come in for especially derogatory treatment ‘faceless bureaucrats’ ‘relentless regulators’ ‘enemies of enterprise’ – except when suddenly you need a whole lot more of them to manage immigration and make sure people have their passports when the cuts you have made backfire. Or when anything goes wrong and there is an immediate call to ‘set up an enquiry’ needing – you’ve got it – more public servants!
It is disingenuous at best and malicious at worst to whip up antagonism towards public sector workers when the truth is that everyone has suffered and will continue to suffer as austerity bites again, as it surely will after the next election. I don’t think that people want run-down, cut price public services operated by run-down, badly paid public servants. I do believe that David Cameron and co have an ideological agenda. They will not hesitate to manipulate statistics and language, not to bring about changes to public services (there is no argument that lots of things do need to change) but to replace them altogether with private providers. The danger is that they will put profits before people and will have no truck with those who can’t afford to pay. That’s why I’m going to be supporting my union today.