Three years ago, the world watched in awe as the world’s stock markets plummeted. The accounts of some of the world’s biggest banks turned out to be as fictional as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. To avoid imminent collapse, they crawled with their begging hats to their respective governments. The subsequent bailouts have bankrupted previously prosperous economies, with ordinary citizens facing decades of austerity as a result.
The collapse of the world’s economy was the inevitable result of three decades of neo-liberalism, which, along with rampant deregulation, saw the suppression of wages and destruction of workers’ bargaining rights. Now that their experiment has went belly-up, we have been asked to foot the bill. In the run up to the November 30 strike, no one should forget how this crisis started, why it happened and who was at fault. Have you ever met a school dinner lady who traded in derivatives? Have you ever came across a teacher who sold a credit default swap or a bus driver who engaged in predatory lending? Of course not. People like this did not cause the crisis, so they should not be asked to pay for it.
Contrary to received wisdom, public sector pensions are not “gold plated”. Half of public sector pensions are less than £6,000 a year. The real gold plated pensions are actually found at the top of the private sector. Last year the TUC found that the directors of the UK’s top companies have an average pensions pot of £3.8 million, with some reaching well over £5 million. It’s often pointed out that workers in the private sector are granted much less generous terms and conditions. That may be so (as a private sector worker, I know that well), but surely that’s an argument to fight for better terms and conditions and, of course, pensions in the private sector? Attempts to equalise the misery and create an artificial divide between workers in the private and public sectors must be opposed.
The spectacle of those at the top continuing life as usual while public services are decimated must be one of the most infuriating things for workers forced into taking strike action this month. At the end of October, it was revealed that the pay of the UK’s top company directors rose by 43% in the past year, increasing to an obscene £2.7 million a year. For David Cameron to say public sector pensions are “unaffordable” while top bosses take home millions is dishonest, to say the very least. This statistic alone easily debunks the patronising drivel that “we are all in this together”, a meaningless slogan continually espoused by a cabinet of millionaires.
With ever more unions joining the biggest strike since 1926, the media are gearing up for a predictable smear campaign. “Union barons” and “union bosses” will be attacked with the most venomous vitriol, while the real barons and bosses who destroyed the economy in the first place will go unscathed. Deliberate half-truths and outright falsification will littler the newspapers in the run-up to November 30 in an attempt to turn public opinion against the unions. This is a key reason why trade union activists need to be engaging with people on the ground.
Although the immediate issue with the November 30 strike is pensions, it is part of something larger and much more intense. Across the globe, a class war being waged. While the working classes in the Middle East are rising up to demand democracy and economic fairness for the first time, the working classes in the West will be fighting increasingly hard to retain the gains we have made over the past 60 years. The eternal conflict between capital and labour is intensifying. Warren Buffet, one of the richest individuals in the world, confirmed this recently when he said: “Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.”
The November 30 strike represents the beginning of a hard fight ahead. Most importantly, it should not be seen by activists as an end in itself. One day of strike action isn’t going to change the intentions of the bosses’ class; that will require a long, drawn-out struggle. Radical action will be required, including general strikes and civil disobedience. It’s a struggle everyone should get involved in – all our futures are at stake.