THE BLOG

Public Sector Strikes: A Defence

11/07/2014 13:26 BST | Updated 09/09/2014 10:59 BST

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Yesterday saw the largest round of industrial action since 2011, in which hundreds of thousands of people rallied against on-going wage cuts, job losses and falling living standards. And as if these fire fighters, teachers, cleaners, grave diggers, care workers, and a whole host of other public sector employees who keep your public services and facilities working round the clock weren't tired enough already, they then had the cheek to take industrial action in a desperate bid to be recognised, and to be heard.

So when David Cameron wasn't busy opening the floodgates for British security services to further monitor our personal lives, he and his political party found the time during the day to publicly demonise the public sector strike. Such was the moral outrage felt amongst the Tories that public sector strikes are 'never justified', Cameron has even felt compelled to reconsider the required threshold of strike-action ballots for future industrial action. Such tightening of strike laws would require the majority of a union membership to vote for a strike in order for it to go ahead. Such a move is symbolic of the never-ending governmental assault on workers' rights.

Both the rushing through of new surveillance laws and clamping down on industrial action, despite their intrinsic differences, share a curious parallel in the way that the Conservatives have shaped them as means to protecting British people, despite their evident restriction of individual and collective liberties, leaving one with a particularly bad taste in the mouth. Moreover, there appears to have been an evident shift in public perception towards both stances. Initial outrage at leaks on public spying by Edward Snowden has given way to luke-warm, grudging placation as new revelations are encountered on an almost weekly basis. It's almost as if we have reached an end point at which we can effectively process and comprehend such far-reaching and frankly stupefying levels of invasion of our private lives; a little more won't hurt. Besides, as Cameron put it so bluntly yesterday, 'Sometimes, in the dangerous world in which we live, we need our security services to listen to someone's phone...or read their emails'. The day before yesterday, David Cameron also said (on twitter of course - ever the modern man) 'Tomorrow's public sector strikes are wrong. Labour should be clear and condemn them: no ifs, no buts.'

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The line of rhetoric used by this government to condemn the strikes, the same government that have sought to systematically purge this country of its traditional large-scale public services, is that a single day's strike 'will damage children's education, hurt the economy and disrupt the lives of millions', a notion that pales in comparison to the wholesale ability of this exact same government to - yes you guessed it - damage children's education, hurt the economy and disrupt the lives of millions. Yet it is a position that appears to be increasingly shared by members of the public; resentment towards teachers and closing schools remains a focal area for scrutinising industrial action. A quite remarkable article written for the Daily Express by Conservative MP Grant Shapps, even advocates the criminalisation of 'disruptive school strikes', which act as 'a slap in the face for millions of parents who could lose their income today.' Perhaps Mr Shapps has forgotten the widespread closing of schools 2 years ago for a certain royal wedding, which cost the British economy somewhere between £1-6billion, as well as many missed lessons for British school kids.

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A government with a selective memory should come as no surprise to anyone, yet on this issue there is a distinct double standard, and this agenda, which trivialises public sector strikes as mere trouble-making, is a grave reflection of a society that undervalues its public services. Indeed, Vince Cable's opposition to the coalition's calls for future strike-action to be decided by a majority vote in union ballots underlines the most painfully obvious double standard in all of this: a large contingent of the current MPs were voted in with less than 50% of the vote.

Taking the decision to strike is not one that is taken lightly; nobody wants to strike, and it is vital that we understand that it is a tool used in the break down of negotiations between state and worker. Moreover, it should be recognised as an inherent right to protect the worker, not an offensive weapon that is exploited to bully the state. This notion should be emphasised during a time when our government is taking blatant steps to bully and curb the basic rights of the common worker, not the other way around. The disruption to public life by these major strikes ought to reinforce the necessity of sufficiently well paid, supported and maintained public services. And so whilst Cameron and his cabinet continue reducing the accountability of the security services, skirting round reports of wide-spread paedophilia in the houses of parliament, and continue to dismantle crucial public services this week, we must maintain and appreciate the right to strike.