Socialist Worker unpicks some of the government's lies about the battle for public sector pensions
Most workers didn’t vote for strikes. If workers strike, it won’t have a democratic mandate.
The Tories are bleating on about the turnouts in recent ballots for strikes among public sector workers. They claim there’s no democratic mandate for strikes.
It’s true that a majority of workers did not vote. In the PCS, the turnout was just over 32 percent and in the ATL it was 35 percent. It was 40 percent in the NUT.
But the Tories assume that everyone who didn’t vote doesn’t back strikes. There’s no evidence for this. Those voting against strikes were in the minority in all unions—in the NUT only 8 percent actively opposed striking.
And all evidence shows that when workers strike, even those who didn’t vote for strikes respect the action.
That’s because trade union members tend to abide by democratic decisions—something the Tories have trouble understanding.
As turnouts in trade union ballots go, they aren’t low. The NUT turnout is relatively high—just under 30 percent of members voted in the union’s last national ballot in 2008.
The votes for strikes in the NUT, ATL and PCS unions were high—despite the anti-union laws and the constraints of the balloting process.
In the NUT, a massive 92 percent of those voting backed strikes. More than 60 percent backed strikes in the PCS and 83 percent in the ATL.
We should take no lectures from the likes of David Cameron on “democratic mandates”. On his definition of democracy, he wouldn’t be prime minister today—just 25 percent of those eligible to vote backed the Tories in last year’s election.
Most workers aren’t angry. A handful of strike-happy extremists have got control of the unions and they don’t represent most people.
Lots of working class people are fuming at the Tories’ assault on their living standards and services. The TUC demonstration in March, where well over half a million people marched in London, showed the level of opposition to Tory cuts.
Delegates at several union conferences this year overwhelmingly backed calls for a general strike. Left wing union leaders haven’t emerged out of nowhere. Union members democratically elect their union leaders.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, for example, was elected in 2000 on a clear left wing platform. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2009.
The Tories are desperate to divide workers any way they can—that’s why they talk of “extremists” and “militants”. But their arguments don’t hold water.
Public sector workers are being selfish. Their gold-plated pensions mean private sector workers will suffer.
The average public sector pension is less than £5,000 a year—or less than £100 a week. A quarter of civil service workers get less than £2,000 a year—or £40 a week.
For women working in local government, the average annual pension is just £1,600. That’s less than £5 a day. And for some workers, such as teachers, the value of their pension is actually falling while prices go up and wages are frozen.
Of course it’s true that some workers have even worse pensions. Others have none at all.
But attacking public sector pensions won’t win better pensions for anyone else.
On the contrary, it will make the government and the bosses more confident to ram through attacks elsewhere. The Tories want to divide workers into “public” and “private” and set the sectors against each other.
The truth is that all workers have the same interests.
If hundreds of thousands of public sector workers strike and stop the Tory assault, workers everywhere will feel a little bit taller. A victory for one section of workers will give confidence to others to fight for better pensions.
These strikes will only hurt people who need the services. No-one supports them.
Whenever workers strike it has an impact because workers are immensely powerful. The strikes will disrupt important aspects of life for ordinary people.
But they will hit the government much harder—that’s why they are trying to turn people against them.
It’s barefaced hypocrisy for Tory ministers to cry crocodile tears about how the strikes will harm working class people.
The 30 June strikes will hit services for one day. The Tories want to permanently harm generations of ordinary people by driving down their living standards and wrecking jobs and services.
They knows they are unpopular and that the strikes could spark a much bigger battle against them.
That’s why they will do anything they can to turn people against strikers.