Thursday, 1 December 2011

A choice: race to the bottom or fight and win

This is a simple message from someone who marched and visited pickets yesterday, but who works in the private sector:

Don't moan. Organize. Just because the private sector workforce has been brought to its knees by legislation, greedy bosses and cowardly union leadership, it doesn't mean public sector workers have to throw away their hard-earned and hard won benefits (as rubbish as they are for the low-paid majority) in a race to the bottom.

I spent the first few years of my working life in the public sector, and was never paid enough to be able to pay a penny into a pension, or to even afford a place of my own to live. The vast majority of public sector workers are people like me and you, people like my parents: underpaid, overworked, disproportionately taxed, and destined to struggle for every penny in old age. These people are fighting not just for their own pensions, but for the services everybody, public and private sector workers, take for granted. Imagine having to find money for healthcare from your minimum wage once the NHS is gone. Imagine, when you're old, having to choose between heating and eating because fuel bills are sky high while winter fuel allowance is being cut. 

And then look at the cabinet. Almost every one of the people making these decisions about your life is a millionaire who will never have to worry about affording to see a doctor, or heating their home. The median pension payout for a public sector worker is £5,600, with the average pension for a female local government worker being just £2,600. And the new proposals will mean workers paying more per month into their pension fund, and getting less out at the end. Combined with government proposals to cap wage increases at just 1% per year, when inflation is taken into account this adds up to a huge pay cut.

The basic state pension pays out £102 a week. The government itself says that anything below £178 per week for a pensioner is poverty pay and over 2 million pensioners are in receipt of just a basic state pension. That means they must live their day-to-day lives in poverty. Add the cuts to fuel allowance and the rising cost of utilities and food, and the destruction of the NHS, and it’s clear things will only get worse for pensioners. Of course, this won’t be an issue for those politicians and bosses now attacking the right to a decent old age for working people.

Private sector pension schemes have been all but destroyed over the past 10 years. The number of workers in private sector pension schemes has fallen from around a half of all workers to just a third. This will force workers in the private sector to rely on more state benefits after they retire. All of this has happened as corporate profit over the past 30 years has increased hugely. The average pension for directors at large companies runs to around £175,000 per year. And private sector bosses won't voluntarily sacrifice their comfort in life to pay you a living wage. They'll do what they can to save money. Turn the heating off in winter, scrimp on the equipment you need to do your job, contravene health & safety regulations and put you in danger of injury or death, and ultimately they'll make you redundant. Because they don't care about you. You're a negative number on their balance sheet and if they can drive that cost down they will. 

Make no mistake - this fight is not "working people against each other" but "the haves against the have-nots". The bosses, and the politicians who serve their interests, like nothing more than seeing workers pitted against each other. It means workers are not focused on them while they decimate every privilege previous generations have fought for in order to keep their own position in society. Everything politicians say about strikes and other action is designed to discredit them, to divide private sector and public sector workers further, and to divide different areas of the public sector from each other. Francis Maude has been particularly outspoken over the strike, yet his pension is funded by the taxpayer at £43,825 a year. And union bosses are no better. Their position means they have little in common with the people they're supposed to be representing. They will defend their position and their pay at the expense of their members. 

Bosses and governments will continue to attack everybody's pay and conditions unless workers stand up to them, and union leaders will only go so far with their help. If workers want a proper deal in life for ourselves and for the next generation, we will have to take action for ourselves. We get nothing without fighting for it, and we keep nothing without fighting to keep it. The bosses and the government have already been for private sector pensions. Don’t let them come for public sector ones as well. Stand up and fight for a decent future for all. 

Stop moaning in news comments, visit a picket, visit a march, learn and understand how it's done and that you yourselves have the power to do the same if you've got the appetite and the knowledge to fight for it, because that's what you'll have to do. Fight. The bosses and the politicians rely on workers to keep production running and to keep them in their position, to keep profits rolling in and to keep the millions in their bank accounts. The power is in your hands but we've got to stick together to win. And we can win.  

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