Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The workers, united.

Tomorrow, 300,000 civil servants go on strike to defend over 100,000 jobs, now at risk under Gordon Brown's plans. They'll need it to be solid enough to sustain momentum for future action, since the best that can be expected from the current level of action is that it would prompt the government to make a temporising offer which it could later withdraw. The union has made it clear that this one-day strike and two-week overtime ban is the start of action: if they want to win it, they'll need to escalate dramatically and rapidly.

The reason why the government says it is cutting the civil service jobs is because it says it expects to save £20bn over four years to make up public spending shortfalls. Curious how this happens: we have NHS deficits, which they're planning to remedy by making cuts. This is an extremely rich country, which can usually afford to do what it thinks is important. If the government wishes to invade Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, it does so and there is no question of expense. If they wish to invest £76bn in a revamped nuclear weapons system, they do so, and congratulate themselves on their foresight. If they wish to maintain the arms industry, they plough investment into it, negotiate with state leaders on its behalf, offer Export Credit, underwrite it with guarantees etc etc. And this is, moreover, a government that has been able to, and has seen fit to, pour billions of pounds into extremely wasteful, inefficient, profiteering Private Finance Initiatives. So, it's a lie that this has anything to do with 'efficiency', and public services are run down enough without the government making further cuts.

A good start to this week was the huge climbdown by notorious union-bashing BA boss Willie Walsh, in the face of a strike threat backed by 96% of workers. BA made big concessions on pay and sick leave - however, as I suspected, the door has been left open for acceptance of BA's pension proposals, which involves later retirement and increased employee contributions. Nevertheless, the concessions that have abolished a two-tier pay-structure, significantly raising pay for large numbers of staff, and the withdrawal of sickness procedures that made staff frightened of taking a day off if they needed to get well, constitute a success. BA workers have shown what solidarity, even before a single picket line is raised, can do. Hopefully civil servants can do the same.