The public sector strikes - right or wrong?

Striking workersThe most divisive issue of today, and indeed most days, is the public sector strikes. The 'yes' camp are driven by the lack of fairness about it all. From the public sector workers' perspective, they accept lower pay than the private sector and a good pension is part of the deal.

However, for most in the 'no' camp that makes no sense in today's economically hostile world. Pensions are a fraught issue, pay scales are wildly unequal and the 'squeezed middle' we hear so much about can barely afford a pension.
So we asked two of our writers, Chris Wheal in the 'yes' camp and Damian Wilson in the 'no' to slug it out - literally - and explain why their side is right.

Chris Wheal - Why public sector workers must strike

Public sector workers must strike not just to defend their fair and affordable pensions but to keep valuable public services freely available to us all.

They must strike today because the anti-trade union laws have forced them to spend millions organising postal ballots. To delay would mean wasting all that money and a long process of re-balloting.

They must strike solidly because they are stronger together than individually. Groups of private sector workers have been picked off and had their equally affordable pensions schemes closed. If the public sector workers lose, many more will see their hard-earned retirement income ravaged.

Only a cabinet of millionaires would have the cheek to label pensions for refuse collectors "gold-plated". Final salary pensions exist in the private and public sector. If employers had paid into them every year, as they were supposed to, and listened to the actuaries' calculations, the funds would have plenty in them today.

The fact that some firms – and by no means all – have scrapped decent pensions should be taken not as the acceptable course of behaviour, but as a warning.

Pastor Niemöller's famous quote about not speaking out when the Nazis came for different groups, rings true. The government may be painting this as selfish public sector workers striking for their own self-interests but that is just an attempt to divide us. And once they have done that they will pick off other, weaker groups.

We must all support the strikers. They are fighting a battle for all of us. We all deserve decent pensions.

Nobody wants to strike. It is not an easy decision for anyone – and more so for workers who have chosen to serve the public, often providing frontline services in difficult circumstances. To them, it is not just about losing pay or losing their job (all strikers may be sacked); public sector workers don't want to let the public down.

Striking is the last resort, a decision taken when negotiations have proved fruitless, when the bosses won't budge. The unions have not rushed into this. The government is making last-minute offers it could have made months ago. Striking – withdrawing your labour – is the only weapon workers have.

The odds are always stacked against strikers – bosses have more resources and the law on their side. That is why we must all, today, support the public sectors workers on strike.

Damian Wilson - Why the strikes aren't fair

What striking public sector workers have to realise as they take today off is that the government does not really give a monkey's about their cause and the rest of us who aren't strikers are pretty browned off.

They've been made a fair offer and they can like it or lump it instead of continually bleating on about what's fair.

I can tell you what's not fair. Suddenly having to cancel a day's work and the pay you'd expect because you have to stay and look after the children kept home from school when you've only had a few days' notice that they'd be locked out.

And I'll tell you what else is not fair. While we're still digesting the grim reality of revised down growth figures, union bosses with the mindset of a bygone era have, despite the fact that three quarters of their support did not vote for a strike, decided it's all out anyway.

That's not fair to those who expect their union leaders to represent their views.

This strike was going to happen no matter what. It was planned months ago and shows just how disingenuous the unions are when they sit around the negotiating table even knowing that public sector workers are paid, on average, £3,500 more than their counterparts in the private sector.

Meanwhile, the rest of us face the nightmare struggle of organising childcare, entertainment and work around the sudden cancellation of 90 per cent of schools for the day, facing queues of up to 12 hours trying to pass immigration at Heathrow and staring at closed doors and phones ringing while no one answers just as we try and get on with our lives.

When the note came home last week from my daughter's school saying the staff had decided to walk out in support of their fellow workers, what response, really, could they expect?

Because if they had asked me, I would have told them to simply do the job they were paid to do and if they were looking for solidarity then their acceptance of the pension offer on the table that is ultimately paid by taxpayers like me might earn them more support than a down tools.

What the strikers don't get is that they're moaning about pensions means absolutely nothing to the vast majority of us who don't even have such a thing.

They should count themselves lucky and give the rest of us a break.

After reading both arguments, what do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
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