July 11, 2014 1 Comment
It has been a long time since I have been on strike. I cannot give a precise date, but it is something of the order of thirty years, maybe a little less but not much less. I last struck when still a civil servant and I cannot actually recall what the argument was about. In total, during my twelve and a half years employed by HM Customs and Excise I think it was about a handful of days of industrial action that I participated in. In those days we were up against a Prime Minister who really did not like the trades unions or the public sector and was intent on trouble. Not that the unions were entirely blameless, but Mrs Thatcher was certainly spoiling for a fight.
That I have not been on strike since is down to my work environment since; information technology departments are generally well looked after. However, I am pleased to report that I have yet to cross a picket line, and have been on many a march.
Striking is an important tool for ordinary people and serves two basic functions. Firstly, the withdrawal of labour lets employers know that their workforce is dissatisfied. It also informs the wider community – strikes are usually highly visible. Strike days are not holidays. Aside from the loss of income (and pension) those who value their work do not enjoy disruption. My experience teaches me that it is always a last resort.
Politicians are often in a strange place when it comes to striking in the public sector, not least because they are often the employer. However, whether an individual piece of industrial action is supportable or not, the right to strike is fundamental; Conservative plans to further limit union power is wrong.
Yesterday’s industrial action by public sector workers comes after four years of falling living standards, four years in which incomes have barely (if at all) risen. These same four years have seen an 11% average rise in the cost of running a car, 16% rise in the cost of food, 22% average electricity bill rises, and 57% average rises in gas bills. This is accompanied by job losses and reductions in public services. It is little wonder that they are fed up and angry.
My daughter, and granddaughter, took part in yesterday’s rally in Southend-on-Sea, and Eilise had to field a number of inquiries as to my absence from the event. There is a straightforward answer to that one, and that is that I do not work in the public sector and so was not on strike. I was working in Basildon yesterday.
For the record, I belong to Unite the Union, am Treasurer of Southend Against The Cuts, and am the Trade Union Liaison Officer for the Southend Labour Parties Local Campaign Forum.