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Two Million Public Sector Workers on Strike, Schools Closed but Airports Unaffected

Posted on the 30 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost

Two million public sector workers on strike, schools closed but airports unaffected

Public sector strikers. Photo credit: Roger Blackwell,

An estimated 2 million public sector workers went on strike Wednesday over proposed pension and budget cuts. Despite fears that the day of action would bring the country to a standstill, early reports indicated that transport hubs were largely unaffected and some schools were still open. But whatever the turnout, are public sector workers right to strike?

Prime Minister David Cameron called the strike a “damp squib”, reported The Telegraph.

Daily Mail in anti-strike shocker. Amazingly enough, Max Hastings came out against the strikers in The Daily Mail, describing public sector pensions as “insupportable” and salaries as “inflated”. Hastings argued that the strike shows public sector workers have lost touch with economic reality: “They aspire to become merely the last survivors standing in the rubble, an idiotic as well as shockingly selfish ambition.” According to Hastings, the British public needs to accept that a drop in the standard of living is inevitable given the financial crisis; he exhorted the country to show “a touch of Blitz spirit”.

“Young and old – many new to sacrificing a day’s pay as a last resort – turned out to march in a bid to persuade the government to rethink its proposals,” reported The Guardian’s Helene Mulholland from London.

Understandable but misguided. “If the strike, and that deep anger, are understandable, they are also self-destructive,” said an Independent editorial, arguing that private sector workers face the same deprivations as those in the public sector. According to The Independent, we really are “all in this together”.

Strikes are unfair. Neil O’Brien condemned “short-termist” unions in The Times (£), insisting that they are actually damaging their members’ interests: “Defending jobs that are no longer needed means lower productivity and lower wages in the long run.” What’s more, O’Brien said that the unions on strike weren’t being fair to those outside the public sector: “Jackpot pensions for older public sector workers make it harder for my fellow thirtysomethings to get work.”

Pensions aren’t as big as public thinks. NHS physiotherapist Mike Pearson told the BBC that his pension is currently £7000 a year – “hardly gold-plated as some people seem to think” – and that his salary is lower than it would be in the private sector.

It’s not just about pensions. According to the Department for Education, 58 percent of schools have shut down during the strike, with a further 13 percent partially closed. Writing on The Guardian’s Mortarboard Blog, teacher Kate Treacy said the proposed pension plans were not her only reason for striking: “I firmly believe that this campaign is not just about how well-off I will be in my autumn years. It’s about fostering respect for our profession, it’s about ensuring that teachers are valued,” she wrote. Treacy argued that the teaching profession will struggle to attract bright applicants in national “teacher-bashing” continues, and pointed out that state school teachers do not have the same options as private sector workers: “Good teachers can’t negotiate a better pension deal elsewhere. We are stuck with what the government offers us. So that offer needs to be attractive.”

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