If austerity is so important for the British economy, why do top bosses and other multi-millionaires not feel the need to practice it? If tax increases and benefit cuts are so vital for getting the deficit down, why was Goldman Sachs allowed to keep £10 million it owed to the taxman and why was Vodafone allegedly allowed to dodge tax to the tune of £6 billion? And if it is so necessary to reduce the cost of public sector pensions, why do cabinet members and MPs not agree to the kind of pension cutbacks they are proposing for nurses, teachers, council workers and other lower paid people in public sector jobs? It’s not just the attacks on our living standards and rights that are so hard to take, it’s the hypocrisy that goes with them as well!
Fortunately that hypocrisy is increasingly being exposed by anti-austerity networks like UK Uncut, the Coalition of Resistance and the various Occupy campaigns that have sprung up in Wall Street, London and cities across the world in recent months. Unions are exposing it as well and are now mobilising to bring over two million public sector workers out on strike in defence of their pensions on 30 November.
This action has been forced on public sector workers by the enormity of the coalition attack on their pensions, which involves most having to pay around 50% more into their pension, work up to eight years longer to receive it and receive a poorer pension at the end of the day. And it is not as if these pensions are ‘gold plated’ as, according to the PCS union, the average public sector pension is a modest £5,600 a year – less than half the rate of the national minimum wage and over four times less than the £24,000 an MP could get after only 15 years in parliament.
And public sector workers are being asked to make this sacrifice at a time when their pay is being frozen for two years. And not a penny of the billions taken from them will go to safeguard their future pensions but, instead, to cut the deficit caused by the banks.
The unions which have already voted for action on 30 November include Unison, PCS and four teaching unions, including the National Association of Head Teachers who will be striking for the first time in their history. Ballot results are due shortly in around a dozen other unions, including the First Division Association of top civil servants, the GMB, Prospect, UCATT and Unite. And, even though they are not balloting, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and several other organisations have pledged to join protest activities on the day.
It is important that workers outside the public sector support the 30 November action as well, for example by visiting picket lines on the day and joining in any local protests. Detail of the pension dispute and of local activities should be available on any public sector union website, regional TUC website (www.tuc.org.uk) or on www.pensionsjustice.org.uk.
We are all in this together!
Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.