This time yesterday I was ambivalent about the strikes. They weren’t, and still aren’t, going to affect me and I could see some sense in the arguments from both sides.
Today, however, I support the strikers.
This sudden shift in opinion is mainly due to Osbourne’s Autumn Budget Statement yesterday in which he announced a two year limit of public pay increases to 1%. Given how high inflation is, that amounts to a pay cut two years running on top of the pay freeze (effectively another pay cut) that public sector workers are already undergoing.
Whilst this will save some money, the choice of this particular way to save money looks to have been made purely to spite the unions for daring to go on strike.
Now, the fact is that public sector pensions are already sustainable. There’s no black hole in the pensions budget which needs to be filled. Despite this, the Tories are telling a lot of public sector workers that they will have to work longer and pay more in order to receive lower pensions. The logic behind this being that people in the private sector have even worse pensions.
Well, that might well be the case. I don’t have the facts at hand to make a detailed comparison. But let’s assume that Osbourne is correct when he says this. That still leaves unanswered the question as to why it is necessary to make everyone equally worse off (apart from the very rich of course) instead of trying to make everyone equally better off. Comparing downwards all the time can only lead to a race to the bottom.
And that's why I think that the unions are right to go on strike. When Osbourne responds to genuine grievances by cutting public sector pay for a lot of people who aren't especially well paid then that simply cannot be called right.
In my opinion, government should be honest about why they’re cutting pensions. They should have the guts to tell public sector workers that they haven’t done anything wrong, that their pensions are unsustainable but the fact is that they need to make them pay more in order to pay down the deficit and bring the country through the economic crisis. That’s what the truth really is and it’s the one thing that no one seems to want to admit.
The unions say the government is cutting pensions because they’re evil tories and the government say they’re cutting pensions because they’re overly generous and unaffordable. None of those claims are true.
Much as I hate it, public sector pensions probably do need to be cut to lower spending. It is unfair but the only alternative I can see is cutting other services even more. But if the government is determined to make people work longer for less then it should at least have the courage to tell them the real reason why.