A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Civil servants fight back

The government is going ahead with its plans to rip up the civil service compensation scheme (redundancy protection pay for civil servants). But members of the PCS civil servants' union have voted for strike action to oppose the changes. The government's plans would mean many staff losing tens of thousands of pounds if they are made redundant. The government is looking to 'save' £500 million by doing this, but only on the basis of cutting tens of thousands of civil service jobs. Imagine the devastating effect that job cuts on this scale will have on vulnerable people in our society who rely on these services. 64% of members who voted chose to strike, and 81% voted for a ban on overtime. This was despite a massive anti-strike propaganda campaign by senior managers. The millionaire-owned media often tries to portray civil servants as under-worked, over-paid, and having cushy jobs with massive pensions. If you have been into an over-crowded Jobcentre in the last couple of years, you'll know there is no truth in this.

Many people working on the frontline only get paid about £15,000 a year. While this is more than the miserly minimum wage, it is less than the amount that New Labour MP Elliott Morley claimed for a mortgage that didn't exist! And it is about the same as Fred Goodwin (failed ex-boss of Royal Bank of Scotland) is rewarded each week by the taxpayer for his part in destroying the economy! Frontline civil servants provide a much more important service to society than fat-cat bankers. But compare Fred 'the Shred's' pension with that of an average civil servant who gets a pension of no more than £10,000 a year and very often a lot less.
If the government is successful in its plans to cut the redundancy scheme, it will mean that our public services are more likely to be privatised. Private companies want to make as much money as possible, and they will try to do this by getting rid of staff and reducing services. This will be easier if redundancy protection is cut.
The trade union movement has an old saying - an injury to one is an injury to all. Workers from across the public and private sectors, as well as unemployed people, pensioners and students need to unite together to oppose the cuts agenda.

In 1982, the official unemployment figure topped three million for the first time since the 1930s. Then came almost a decade of redundancies and industrial battles as work shifted away from manufacturing and towards the financial sector - the eye of today's economic storm. For the 2.5 million unemployed today and for those facing redundancies, an organised fightback against all job cuts is as urgent now as it was then. Whoever wins the general election, workers, trade unionists and socialists have to prepare now to mount a determined struggle to defend jobs and working conditions. We must oppose attempts to pass on the bill for this crisis through public sector cuts or through redundancies and closures in the name of 'efficiency', 'modernisation' and cries of poverty from millionaire shareholders and employers.

Struggles to defend jobs should go hand in hand with socialist demands such as a massive job creation programme, investment in socially useful work including the development of renewable energies and a massive building programme of affordable housing. We should demand a living wage for all, without exemptions and for the available work to be shared out for the benefit of all. Britain's working week is one of the longest in Europe. Hundreds of thousands work over 50 hours a week, while record numbers of workers have switched to part-time work to avoid the poverty trap of the benefits system. Sharing out the work would dramatically cut unemployment. The idea of a standard 35-hour week has always been attacked by employers and governments, for them 'casual' work means the employers' right to hire and fire without consequence.

The influential think-tank, the New Economics Foundation recently published its findings on the working week. They predict that a 21-hour working week will become the norm in a future capitalist society - for them however, a shorter working week is for the capitalists' benefit not the workers'.

In reality, they argue for a super-casualisation of working life, with annualised hours (they talk of working a 21-hour week or its equivalent in hours spread across a month or year). Workers will be left waiting for the call to come to work and will only get paid when the employer feels they are needed.

We must argue that the need for shorter working hours and employment for all should not be paid for by the working class, but by the giant monopolies which exploit us to line shareholders' pockets and dominate the economy. Share out the work, with no loss of pay!

There is more than enough wealth in society to make these demands a reality. The economic crisis means redundancies and repossessions for many, but it is business as usual for the super-rich, who remain super-rich at our expense.

The modest demand for a 35-hour week should form the backbone of trade union campaigns for jobs now and for future generations. If capitalism can't afford a 35 hour week or a living wage for all workers, then we can't afford capitalism!

The alternative is a 'race to the bottom' in services and working conditions, leaving only under-staffed and over-crowded offices or call centres, and insecure, temporary, low-paid jobs with minimal or no sick, holiday and pension rights. We cannot let this happen. Come to government offices on the strike days and give your support to workers on picket lines taking action.


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