My Reckless and Provocative Opinion on the Pension Strike

It will be controversial. But then, I have always set my cap at a jaunty angle.

The thing is this. The National Government is right that public sector pensions are much better than their private sector equivalents. According to Polly Toynbee, two thirds of private sector workers have no pension at all. Others will die before they reach retirement age. Plenty of people still work in sawmills. A recent HoC debate on pensions , with representations from MPs in working class communities, gives a better overview of the reality in this country than any strike coverage.

Most people do not support a strike that is about protecting the benefits of a small group of public sector professionals. The public sector is extremely hard to get into for most working people. Many councils do not recruit from working people in their LAA and it is almost impossible to break through university HR’s lustrous gates.

The Independent’s Steve Richards, discussing claims that the pensions strike was the new miner’s strike, admitted that ‘the counter-argument is overwhelming’:

We are living longer. We will have to pay for that somehow or other. Parts of the public sector have enjoyed pensions that seemed unsustainable in an economic boom and certainly are so now. A few years ago I gave some talks on a cruise. To my surprise it was crammed with retired public-sector employees, some of whom had been drawing a generous pension since their mid-50s and going on what seemed like a never-ending cruise, as quite a few booked their next holiday while on the boat. Briefly I felt like the Daily Mail‘s columnist Richard Littlejohn, and realised how easy it must be to write with reactionary fury.

This strike is right purely because of the issue of higher pension contributions, which are unfair and will hit people hard. But that fair point has been obscured by the big noise about retirement pensions and final salary schemes. And even within public sector schemes, management high earners tend to do best.

The demand is, in essence, this: ‘Young people need to work themselves into the ground in order to help ex-schoolteachers perfect their drives.’ Don’t all rush to the barricades at once.

An obvious response to my argument is to say that you can’t divide workers against each other and it shouldn’t be a race to the bottom – we should raise pay and conditions in the private sector. To which I’d reply: when are we going to do that? Where is the union activity in Tesco’s, DHL, Sainsbury’s, HSBC, HDN, H & M, Ventura, Nando’s, McDonalds, Adidas, CIS, Vertex, JLB Credit?

A one-day strike changes nothing. It is one day’s hassle and nothing more. It is symbolic and nothing more. Discussing this on Facebook yesterday, it was said that this strike was ‘the left ghettoising itself’. That is absolutely right. If it is going to beat this government, the unions need to expand beyond their public sector citadels. We are all in this together.

Do you know what I’d like to see one day? Checkout chicks downing scanners, call takers throwing away their headsets, bar staff and warehousemen and visual merchandisers and commis chefs turn away from their duties and walk out into the streets, hand in hand.

The coalition is a new kind of enemy. What’s needed is a new kind of protest.


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