Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Strike

I was brought up and lived the first thirty years of my life in Paisley, Renfrewshire.

Now Paisley has a proud Labour Movement history. It elected it's first Labour MP in 1924; Willie Gallacher, Scotland's first Communist MP was born there; in the late thirties its textile workers gave substantial voluntary support to the textile workers of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. In 1945 we elected Oliver Baldwin, Stanley Baldwin's radical son as our Labour representative and his enforced and protesting departure to the Lords on the death of his father paved the way for Tony Benn twenty years later.

Even as I tentatively entered the political scene in the Seventies, its most important local Union remained the National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers, the organised embodiment of the 30,000 who once worked at the Anchor and Ferguslie Mills.

But, for reasons buried in pre-history geology, Paisley, indeed Renfrewshire was never a mining area.

So when, for work reasons, I moved home to Kilsyth in 1991, I was immediately struck by the extent to which people would talk about "the" strike. Events would be dated as happening before or after the strike. Local Labour politicians judged in relation to their activities during the strike. Above all, there was a sense that, in the aftermath of the strike, a world had been lost forever.

I read recently a well argued blog, with which I personally agree, suggesting that the Left would do well not to be seen to rejoice in the demise of Margaret Thatcher, but I am only too conscious that there are people in this community who, frail old lady that she now is, would happily still strangle her with their own hands.

Why do I say all of this?

On the 30th November we are invited to accept we are to witness an event of similar importance. Only we are not.

The miners strike was about defending a way of life. It was, even in its time, complicated because it was a way of life, working all day in perilous conditions underground, that the miners (and, for once without any sexist connotation, their wives) did not wish for their own children but which was still better than nothing at all. And the alternative offered by the Tories in 1984, was, as it has since proved so often proved to be, nothing at  all.

Now the leaders of next week's strike are men of place and time. For all they enjoy the same first decade of the twenty-first century comforts as the rest of us, they would much rather, in their imagination at least, be organising alongside Lenin at the Smolny Institute; or at least Hugh Scanlon and Jack Jones confronting the Motor Companies of the sixties at Halewood and Dagenham; or, best of all, A.J. Cook and Herbert Smith on 1st May 1926.

Only they are not. The majority, probably the overwhelming majority, of white collar managerial workers striking on Wednesday will actually be striking against the Government they voted for, even if their leaders didn't. Voted for in the knowledge that would bring a lot of misery to a lot of people but who wish, nonetheless, to be personally exempted from the consequences of their own actions. And they will be striking to defend pension rights that the remainder of the workforce could only dream about. (Senior Civil servants pensions involve a 24% contribution, on top of income, from ordinary taxpayers, many of whom will not earn £74,000 in five years, let alone one.)

Now, that does not mean they do not mean they are wrong to strike. If I was being threatened with a 3% pay cut and thought I could enlist enough support then I'd be on strike as well. Nor does it mean that they do not have the right to strike, of course they do.

But, for the avoidance of any doubt, the lowest paid in the public sector are unaffected by these changes. So are all those within ten years of retirement.

And if Labour had won in 2010, even the most evil Tory spinmeister would not suggest people would have started dying earlier, which is the real cause of the "problem". Or other than the most dishonest Labour Politician assert that change, of some sort, to public sector pension provision would have been unneccessary.

So let us defend the right of the Unions to get the best deal possible for their members. But let's not pretend their is some sort of "class struggle" going on here. Unless it is a struggle between those in the secure salarariat and the rest of us.

1 comment:

  1. Hello. You imply that the lowest paid are unaffected by the changes. That's not true. The change from RPI to CPI, a later pension age and a worse accrual rate all combine to make the lowest paid significantly worse off. We're talking thousands of pounds.