(First Published December 5, 2011)
All out for N30
Wednesday 30th June 2011 saw a general strike with a mixed reception. Public sector workers – who are members of 29 trade unions – voted to strike over proposed Government reforms to their pensions. Negotiations were considered “disappointing” and so an estimated 750,000 workers agreed to strike.
The focus of the day was to defend reforms to public sector pensions. The reforms would essentially see workers work longer, contribute more to their pensions and receive less when they retire however its strike played host to representatives from all anti-cuts organisations such as the Occupy group, the Coalition of Resistance, the Socialist Party and the National Shop Stewards Network. Members of these groups were all out in force defending public sector pensions and fighting against other cuts to things like education, art, the NHS and of course, university fees.
The N30 websites says that ”Rather than aiming to sort out the private pensions mess which leaves millions in poverty on retirement, the Prime Minister wants the country to believe the public sector pensions are ‘gold plated’, unfair and unsustainable. Actually, most public workers end up with less than £5000 a year pension.”
While most sources will say the pensions issue is the official reason for strike action, the day was one of anti-austerity action on the whole, the issue of pensions was seemingly the best way to get unions to come together in co-ordinated action.
Aside from the importance of defending pensions, there was a massive student presence at the anti-austerity protests nationwide. It seems that whilst public sector workers are understandably sticking up for their rights, students are still angry and feeling the pain of the Coalitions first attack. Tripling student fees has been an issue dominating the press for some time now. Since the student protests there has been much debate over the Government’s spending strategies and evidently a lot of anger from students and young people.
Indymedia UK reported that: “Students have once again begun a round of occupations on university campuses in solidarity with the N30 day of action, and in opposition to the White Paper on Higher Education which will give the private sector almost complete control over higher education and knowledge production.”
The response to the strike action has undoubtedly been mixed. Those who went on strike will tell you that it was a huge success, that it was the biggest strike since 1926, or maybe since the 1976 winter of discontent. The Government have relentlessly tried to dissuade public support of those on strike, saying that it was disruptive, unnecessary and irresponsible. David Cameron called the day a “damp squib” and emphasized the idea that public sectors are greedy as their pensions are “gold plated”. The unions response to his comments have been to highlight the fact that public sector pensions are by no means gold plated and that while they may be somewhat better than private sector pensions, that doesn’t mean they are generous. Speakers, attendees and slightly more left-wing press have said that the strike wasn’t about the public sector being out for what they can get, it was about recognising the fact that pensions across the board need improving and that attacks on the public sector are unfair and unjust.
It almost seems a shame that much of the media have downplayed and undermined the strike. The Daily Mail ran the headline of “Britain’s new divide: public sector vs private”, focusing on dividing Britain’s workers which was never the intention of the strikers. Comments from the opinion sections from all media sources, from the Independent to the Telegraph have given Jeremy Clarkson’s bad-timed comments more press than the coordinated, respectful and desperate actions of the working class.
Perhaps it could be said that this day of action was one to highlight the growing gap between the medias portrayal of news and the general publics genuine opinion.