Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Occupy Movement and Public Sector Unions united will never be defeated…

Various Left wing activists, anti-capitalists, communists, anarchists, Trade Unionists, Labour party supporters, former Liberal supporters; all united against common enemies - Western Capitalism, the Coalition and Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson at Number 10

Nightmare for many, actually a dream for some...

The BBC gave the results of a poll that indicated there was ‘strong support’ for the recent public sector strikes over pension reform and certainly the Occupy movement in the UK have stated their support for the action that occurred on November 30th.

Occupy out and about on 'N30'

Occupy and Trade Unionists claim ‘solidarity’ with one another, stated clearly by the Occupy London movement and Unions have at different times claimed to support the Occupy Movement. Although it hasn't been as clear and definite as in the US with Occupy Wall Street, but the situation is much different there.

The Occupy London movement announced their support early on and some Unions have been clear in showing their support - Unite gives ‘sanctuary’ to the Occupy Cardiff Action Group

Occupy Cardiff outside Unite

Does this even count?

As an 'Occupation', as a protest, as anything..?

Certainly many in the Left, supporters of the Unions, support Occupy and some see there being the possibility of something similar to an overall Leftist movement with the help of the Unions.

The criticism of the multitude of objectives and political perspectives within the Occupy movement has been answered at different times by saying that it doesn’t matter as long as groups work together to bring about change and in truth the underlying aim for the majority of activists and supporters is to make the banks and the rich, pay for the financial crisis. And that is all fair enough, there does need to be change and they are more likely to create momentum and affect reform together, rather than as disparate movements, whether or not their ultimate aims differ.

It still seems that some of these desires for a future society may actually differ wildly and for the majority of supporters, really it’s not ‘capitalism’ per se that is the problem, but more corporatism and the current structure of the system, but they still want change.

This is precisely why there is no ‘solidarity’ between the Unions representing the Public Sector and their action against pension reform and the Occupy movement and their desire for change.

Public Sector workers striking

'What do we want..?!'

Occupy want to change the ‘system’ and the Unions want to maintain it.

At least a significant part of it, Occupy want to change the world economic system and the system in the UK that developed over many years, but particularly under Thatcher’s Tories and most recently under New Labour. Whereas the Unions want to maintain a significant part of the system Labour created, particularly the levels of public spending. Spending that as I have previously highlighted was funded by the boom in the financial sector.

If Labour had managed to stay in power and maintained a higher level of spending and public sector employment, the UK Occupy movement may still have been motivated (particularly as the movement began in the US), but the Unions and their members would not have been as apparent in their support.

There were some dissenting voices from the Unions and action taken when the Labour government tried to reform pensions and redundancy conditions, but without a doubt there wasn’t the ‘anger’ against the injustice of the system, when the Labour government maintained relatively good public sector conditions while moulding and facilitating an economic system that would ultimately come crashing down.

Nice one Gordon

He knows the truth...

There were anti-capitalist protests long before the crash, but we didn’t get much from the Unions about the ‘system’ and globalisation in those days.

Times have changed

There are seven billion people now…

Trade Union leaders and activists might well want change more akin to the core of the Occupy movement; from taxing the rich and re-nationalisation to some Trade Unionists that would profess to communist leanings (they certainly have in the past, from Scargill to Gilchrist). However, there is more a pervading desire to just a return to the conditions developed in the post-war years to the 60s and 70s; pre-Thatcher/deregulation days, with nationalised industries and high-unionisation.

Andy Gilchrist - former leader of the FBU

Based out of his student house...

Since the privatisation of productive industries, the Trade Union movement has changed and represents a different spectrum of society (identified by Twitter contributors, amongst others, in the build up to the #N30 strikes), many more middle class workers. It’s no longer an ‘us and them’ class struggle; the average modern union member simply wants representation and protection. Not about fighting for the workers, just about protecting their lot.

The pensions they are fighting for are relics of an economy and economic conditions that no longer exist, final salary pensions and other such benefits became commonplace during the stability that followed the Second World War. Britain was still a major industrial power and retained the remains of an empire, the developing world had barely had a chance to develop, let alone compete.

These pensions are intrinsically tied to the old system and surely the Occupy movement are not advocating a return to the 60s or 70s?

But maybe they are..?

The 1970s

When they knew how to strike...

The public sector pensions issue is obviously contentious in both sectors, as provision in the private sector is far worse, especially for low paid workers. So if Occupy support ‘fair pensions for all’ then they must want at least movement to similar provision for the private sector as well? Perhaps not, but I’m presuming they do, otherwise they won’t really be getting very close to representing the ‘99%’.

Of course the rich pay and everyone retires at 60 on a final salary pension. Fair pensions for all, too right! We’d all like a decent defined benefits deal and have things wrapped up by 60, if not before, but is it in any way feasible?

And in the fair world we’re looking for (surely they can’t just be thinking the developing world should remain without such comfortable benefits?), we should then roll this out to the whole 99%, almost everyone in the world… The 1% can pick up the tab. Sound reasonable?

It certainly sounds like a great world to live in…

And if there is going to be radical change, I mean the kind of anti-capitalist change that many in Occupy advocate, radically different to the current system and with much greater equality, it will have to affect the whole world and everyone will have to go with it (or at least a considerable majority). Otherwise it won’t work. There will be an alternative and opposition, and you just have to look at all the examples of communism in the relatively recent past to see which way it goes.


Lenin had his day


The struggle never ends

The world has changed beyond recognition since final salary pensions became widespread. The global economy has transformed and competition has intensified, living standards have risen and people everywhere are living much longer.

If you look simplistically at a hypothetical average public sector career and retirement (civil servant or council workers):

Working from 21, assuming it’s a graduate (it’s a right not a privilege…), and retiring at 60, then with good health living beyond 80, as so many now do, possibly even to 100, and more and more people will do that.

So 99% of the population able to work only do so for half, or perhaps as little as two-fifths, of their lives? How could that be supported?

That wasn’t a consideration for the utopian world they believed they were creating after World War Two, for people in the West... Most people were dropping dead soon after drawing their pension.

Times have changed, there’s no need to detail it and everyone should accept it. Maybe in the future the robots will do all the work, but we’re not there just yet.

The future..?

More complicated than it looks

The support for each other from Occupy and the Public Sector Unions exists simply because both groups are anti-government. They are of use to each other in many ways, but what use would the collapse of the system be to public sector workers? Who could guarantee their pension then…?

In terms of British workers their deal is still good. Lord Hutton has even said now that the reform needs to go further, due to the poor economic outlook.

And people have to think about the long term situation, in a world where Britain will face tougher global competition and we can’t be certain how we will fair; higher public spending or not.

The Labour Party know there needs to be reform, but they’re just sitting on the fence at the moment. The strikers are their support, yet they can’t condone the strikes, they will have to do something similar in Government and they can’t alienate the centre ground and centre-right. Not very ‘Blue Labour’…

Ed knows every vote counts

‘What would Gordon do…?’

There are calls for solidarity from workers in the private sector, but it doesn’t appear reciprocal, the Left claim the Coalition is creating division between sectors, but we heard little from public sector and their unions as Labour created the division over 13 years and during the first two years of the downturn. I have looked at these issues in previous posts and the specific issues of pensions in a post following the strikes in June.

Public Sector Pickets call for Solidarity

The message to Egypt

It must mean a lot to them...

Many of the voices from the Left of Twitter do not give a sense of solidarity, though they scream about it…

Fingers are pointed at the private sector as the cause of the crisis, consistently questioning why public servants should pay for the mistakes of the private sector (not specifically the financial sector) and one Twitter contributor repeats bizarre sweeping statements about the private sector workers (all of them…) being at fault for their own poor pension provision and there are many more. The Left accuse the Right of generalising and divisive politics, but both sides are pretty good at it, that’s why they’re on different sides…

Many Leftists will say those in the private sector only have to join a union to have a voice, which is true but only to an extent. Most changes in the private sector are to the point of inevitable, due to economic pressures not felt in the public sector and this is particularly so in the current climate. And the current state of affairs in both sectors came after 13 years of the Government most on the Left yearn to return.

The Unions are exerting their power and influence, and they are getting a relatively good deal. Considering their members represent ‘only’ 20-25% of the workforce, their voice seems disproportionately loud and so aligned with the Occupy Movement, it can give a distorted picture for the extent of support.

However, if Labour were to return and back the public sector, the Occupy Movement might then find themselves out in the cold (for want of a better phrase…).

Protesting students have solidarity with both Occupy and the striking Public Sector. There’s a natural connection with Occupy but as I’ve mentioned before I’m not sure they’re thinking through the support for the pensions strikes. They will be working until they die to pay for them. Unless they’re all hoping to find jobs in the public sector…

This issue has got a long way to go, considering the nature of what’s involved, we’re talking generations.

But before that apparently Occupy are trying to crank their protests up a notch, at least for a day. Occupy Everywhere will be with us on December 15th.

Not sure what sort of ‘workplaces’ they’re talking about occupying? Maybe they’ll just hole up in some public sector offices, or outside. Or Union offices as in Cardiff. Solidarity.

But let me bring it back to the fundamental issue of this blog, and the reason we’re all here (in the UK) - New Labour’s Brave New World.

Amongst the news and views on the weekend about pensions and the continuing economic turmoil, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, wife of Ed Balls said that the Government’s pessimism on the economy could be “self-fulfilling prophecy” or words to that effect.

There is a point in terms of talking down markets and consumer spending, but under Labour all we had was optimism, spin and little else.

The facade fell and here we are…

The last 30 years in Number 10

'Thank you and goodnight...'