Date set for massive strikes: how will it hit you?

Voting for the strike ballotAFP/Getty Images

The public sector pensions row was always going to boil over into a wave of strikes. With both sides equally convinced that they are right, we were bound to see a public clashing of heads that ends up hurting all of us.

Now the unions have outlined their strike plans and voted for ballots. So what's going to happen, and how will it affect you?

The strikes
The first proposed day of strikes is 30 November, and there will be a huge number of unions called upon to take united action. This will include everyone from police, paramedics, NHS support staff and fire fighters to teachers, 999 call centre staff, job centre workers, binmen and prison officers.

The plan will be to work as one in order to cause the most disruption possible and bring the country to its knees - and this is just the start. "We are not talking about a day out and a bit of a protest," said Brian Strutton, National Secretary at the GMB union. "We are talking about something that is long, hard and dirty as well.This is going to require days of action, running through the winter into next year and right into the summer."

During these strikes, everyone who needs help from the emergency services will be at risk, schoolchildren will be made to suffer, and vulnerable people trying to get access to help will be left high and dry. Once the pain has become great enough for ordinary people, the thinking is that the government won't be able to take it any longer, and will cave into demands. It's not personal, it's just how public sector strikes work. If you serve the public and you are also committed to industrial action as a negotiating tool, then you have to hurt the public in order to win.

You could argue that this is grossly unfair because we will suffer whatever the outcome of the dispute. If the government wins out, then the strikes will bring endless misery and chaos. If the unions win then they will be allowed to keep relatively generous pubic sector pensions, and it's the rest of us who will foot the bill.

However, arguments aside, how will this affect you?
The difficulty is that it's impossible to tell, because so many of these strikes will affect the emergency services, and emergencies are impossible to predict. The NHS and fire service managers have been planning for this sort of crisis, and should be able to continue to run a service of sorts, but we cannot expect temporary staff to provide exactly the same assistance. Likewise, there's a good chance that non-urgent operations will be cancelled, and there's really nothing patients can do but continue suffering.

For other things, it's worth trying your own forward-planning. If you have children in school, or you regularly need the job centre or HMRC support, you're going to need to look for an alternative. If you want to avoid being thrown into a panic every time a strike is called you need a Plan B, and possibly a Plan C.

Fallback childcare is key for parents. You may have relatives who can help, or you could ask other parents in your child's class to take the kids for a day, in return for you covering the next day of strikes. In terms of tax and the job centre, think of any situation in which you might need to contact them on the strike days, and plan ahead, get your visit or your call in first so you're not left stranded. For the bins, you may well need to take a trip to the tip if things get dirty, so check whether you need to register for a trip and what the operating hours and rules are.

Clearly there is only so much planning you can do in advance. Obviously you're going to end up with a nightmare or two during a long and dirty fight. However, we can all take steps now to limit the fallout from an argument that no-one can win.

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