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Wednesday’s Public Sector Strikes: Is This the Beginning of Another Winter of Discontent?

Posted on the 28 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost


Wednesday’s public sector strikes: Is this the beginning of another Winter of Discontent?

March 24, 2011 UCU strike in Bath against pension cuts. Photo credit: Yewtree,

There’s nothing like the (very real) threat of industrial action to get the political commentariat animated. On Wednesday, around 2.6 million public sector workers are set to take industrial action over planned reform of state sector pensions. If it goes ahead it will be the biggest walkout since the 1978 Winter of Discontent. The mass strike has enraged the Right-wing commentariat who accuse the public sector of selfishness. Trade unionists and others on the Left have defended workers’ right to register their dissatisfaction via industrial action.


The coalition is ramping up the anti-strike rhetoric today. In a speech at think tank Policy Exchange which the BBC reported on, Michael Gove said the unions “want scenes of industrial strife on our TV screens. They want to make economic recovery harder – they want to provide a platform for confrontation just when we all need to pull together.” The PCS union bit straight back: “A BBC poll released today shows overwhelming support for the strike and overwhelmingly people feel that Gove’s government is mishandling the economy. Gove’s speech smacks more of desperation than opinion and will fall on deaf ears.”

A much needed rebuke to unfair Coalition policies. At The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Len McCluskey, general secretary of trade union Unite, defended Wednesday’s planned “day of action” and promised it is “just the start.” “The dispute represents many things beyond its central purpose of making ministers think again about trying to make public servants pay more, work longer, and receive less. It represents a rebuke to an elite, represented by the Conservative-dominated coalition, which has treated the banks and hedge funds in precisely the opposite way, giving them more to deliver less in lending and investment”, insisted McCluskey. Somewhat hopefully, he predicted that the public will put up with the “inconvenience” caused by the action “because they understand the fairness of the public sector workers’ case. I believe they also realize that – like the Occupy movement – it is raising issues about what sort of community we live in, and indeed how much inequality any society can withstand before the very notion of “society” starts to fragment.”

“It is a beginning, not an end, unless the government starts negotiating seriously”, warned trade unionist Len McCluskey. ”There will be more action, more turbulence – including civil disobedience from the expanding coalition of resistance which Unite supports. The government of Goldman Sachs is getting a grip on one European country after another. On Wednesday we will get a glimpse of an alternative – not on paper or a petition, but when millions stand up for themselves.”

Public sector is hopelessly divorced from economic reality. Writing at The Daily Express, fiery right-winger Leo McKinstry insisted there must be “no surrender to these greedy and selfish strikers.” McKinstry described the planned action as a “crude form of blackmail in defence of privilege. The unions aim to hold the country to ransom in order to maintain the state workforce’s pension entitlements which are far more generous than anything enjoyed in most of the private sector.

 Featherbedded by its vast largesse from taxpayers, the public sector has become hopelessly divorced from economic reality.” He reminded that the long-term costs of state employees’ pensions are “simply unaffordable not only because of increased life expectancy but also because of the Government’s mounting debts.” McKinstry lambasted the unions for their “hysterical outrage” and urged the government to “stand firm” and “robustly” stand up to union “bullies.”

The Daily Express’ Leo McKinstry insisted that Wednesday’s strike “will be awash with sentimentality, with endless talk about sacrifices made by heroic public staff such as nurses, lollipop ladies and care assistants. But we should remember that the public sector is also filled with vast numbers of pen-pushers and bureaucrats who do little except waste taxpayers’ money”

A strike is the last thing we need. The prospect of mass strikes motivated Boris Johnson to take to the pages of The Daily Telegraph to bellow that “we can say with utter certainty that this kind of general and wilful disruption is the last thing we need.” Johnson declared that the “system needs reform” and that “we must address the fundamental injustice that modestly paid people in the private sector are paying in their taxes for state pensions on a scale that most private sector pensioners can only dream of.” In a more flippant moment, Johnson said “it may be exciting for kids to go to the office” (because teachers are on strike), but they are better off being taught in school.”

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