Friday, 17 June 2011

Why I am striking on June 30th

As a member of UCU, I'm taking strike action on June 30th. Here's why.

Listen to this morning's interview with Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary of the Treasury, in which he explains that, notwithstanding ongoing negotiations, our pensions are going to be reduced, our contributions are going to increase, and we're all going to work for longer to qualify for them.

I'm not opposed to working longer personally: I know that my miserable life will drag on for a few more years than my parents, and the vision of me sitting at home in my pants railing in  a senile fashion at Melanie Philips' satanic grandchild on Question Time 2040 doesn't appeal. But I don't see why working a few more years isn't enough to cover my pension: I'll be paying in for more years, rather than taking out.  

We are striking against Con-Dem plans to:

• cut public sector pensions by a third;
• to increase the public sector pension age to 68;
• and make public sector workers pay 50% more for it!

We are not striking because we are greedy. Our pensions are a vital part of our pay. We work in the public sector because we believe in decent public services for everyone, and taking strike action is never an easy decision. Academics tend to enter contribute to pensions several years after most people because we usually need years of extra study to qualify, and full-time employment often follows extended periods of hourly-paid teaching: I did a part-time MA and a part-time PhD while picking up bits of university teaching and school supply teaching. I didn't have a 'proper' job until well into my 30s. 

The next generation of academics will owe £27,000 in undergraduate fees alone, plus the cost of living for three years, before they even think about postgraduate degrees: higher contributions for a reduced eventual pension will hurt those who decide to enter our profession, while many people will decide not to become educators at all. We must strike on behalf of the next generation of academics. If I came out of a BA with £50,000 of debt already, perhaps thinking of a mortgage and raising a family, there's no way I'd spend the next few years doing more degrees then starting on £29,000 in my 30s. I'd go into something lucratively destructive like banking.

This attack on our old age is part of the Government’s attempts to roll-back public services. School budgets, libraries, the NHS, youth services, Citizens Advice Bureaus, Legal Aid, leisure centres, access to college and university and more services are being attacked as the Government attempts to undermine the notion of decent public services available to all. 

Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine explains the process: any economic problem is to be used to institute hard-right free-market policies. The irony in this case is that hard-right free-market policies led to the recession now being used as an excuse to attack us. These changes are not a temporary response to an emergency: they are part of an ideological assault on this country's values.
Rightwing politicians and thinkers are claiming that we are 'feather-bedded' or over-privileged, and that we should be treated the same as private-sector workers. This is untrue and misleading: rather than reduce our conditions, why should those in the private sector not earn decent pensions and conditions (and as their directors and executives currently do)? Let's not race to the bottom to enrich the billionaires: let's work to get everybody's lifeboat floating higher. I vocally supported the BA strikers and every other industrial action in recent years - don't swallow the tabloid lies about fat-cat teachers and social workers.

In any case, public-sector workers aren't living a life of luxury: the average public sector pension is only £4000. In teaching, over 95% of pensions are less then £10,000. Unlike the millionaires in the boardrooms or those in our Cabinet, we will not get a ‘gold plated pension’.

Our action on June 30th will be the first major strike against the Con-Dem Government and we ask that you show your support for the public sector workers taking action to defend their pay and conditions and to defend our public services. Please sign petitions and send letters of support into your local school, college, university or Job Centre (for the attention of the NUT, ATL, UCU or PCS union representative).

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