Saturday, 18 June 2011

A summer of discontent?

Every time I turn on the news or open a newspaper I see that one union or another is balloting its members about strike action.

Let's be clear that a strike, particularly in the public service, is never something which should be entered into lightly.

A strike which directly affects the lives of countless people throughout the country through the suspension of public services should always be a last resort.

It is also true that in these dark economic times the vast majority of workers, whether in the public, private or third sector have experienced job losses, at best no increase to wages and being constantly asked to do more by their employers.

However, surely there must come a time when any worker must say 'enough is enough'.

Workers in the public sector have been placed under exactly the same strains as those in the private sector. They have seen large scale redundancies, constant extra duties and yes, increases to pension contributions.

It should be the right of every working person to be a union member and to use the collective power of the workforce to take industrial action for their benefit.

Incidentally it is also the right of employers to dismiss striking workers but lets face it to do so would be ruinous to any business.

Many observers question the wisdom of unions taking action on 'gold-plated' pensions typically highlighting that final salary schemes have long since been closed in other sectors.

Whilst public sector pensions are some of the best schemes around we should understand that for many contributions have significantly increased, benefits have been reduced and previously advantageous age limits phased out.

To put the matter simply a very large number of public sector workers feel that they have been the target of a government, prone to u-turns and errors, making nothing more than a ideological stand for too long.

It is very easy for a government to point at 'inefficiencies' in the public sector but we must remember how 18 years of Tory government left our public services.

Health professionals were leaving the NHS in their droves, schools were falling down and initiatives such as Compulsory Competitive Tendering were based entirely on cost and not delivering a service that was worth anything to anyone.

Is this something we want to return to?

We must remember that the vast majority of public employees are hard working and dedicated people who do not take strike action lightly.

Yes, the rhetoric is being stepped up by the Unions but when Government ministers are stating that their cuts are 'take it or leave it' there is no wonder that strikes are being called for.

And if these cuts are enforced without defending the rights of employees then what terms and conditions will be unilaterally withdrawn next?

Strikes are a last resort and let us hope that both parties (the unions and government) can negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement but if discussions stall I for one will be supportive of any workers right to strike.

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