Today, Wednesday 30th November 2011, is the day of what is being dubbed “the biggest walkout in a generation”. As part of the government’s plans to reduce its deficit, it has announced that public-sector workers must now pay more into their pensions, work for longer and accept a pension based on a ‘career average’ instead of sticking with their current pension agreement. Unions say this will leave public-sector workers working longer and for less money — on top of yesterday’s announcement from Chancellor George Osbourne that public-sector pay would be frozen for the next two years, even in the face of increasing inflation.
I interviewed a union member, a policeman, a nurse and a member of the Socialist party, to explore the different views from across the spectrum of the cause. Here’s what they had to say:
The Union Member
Impact: Would you mind telling us why you’re on strike today please?
The Union Member: Yes. We’re striking today because the government is intent upon taking money out of our pockets and using it to pay the deficit which is not our responsibility in the first place.
Impact: Whose responsibility is it?
The Union Member: The deficit has been caused by bankers, and they’re the drain of society; they’re the ones who have caused the problems with the economy, yet the government are asking us to bail out the banks and the rich and powerful, by us paying more money out of our wages towards our pensions.
Impact: So pension changes aren’t the solution then?
The Union Member: All the pension schemes are running great; there’s no problems with the pension schemes. What the government wants is more money out of our pockets and extra tax, when already we have no pay rises. They want more tax from us and more money from us, and we’re not doing it any more.
Impact: What’s the union’s plan after today’s strike?
The Union Member: This is the first strike of hopefully more strikes, because that’s the only way we’re going to defeat the government
– Pete Watson, UNISON Member of Notts County Council, UNISON Convenor for Adult Social Care (UNISON is Britain’s largest trade union, representing workers in public services, the voluntary sector, and privatised service industries. Nottinghamshire County UNISON Branch represents over 10,000 members employed by various sectors including Nottingham Fire Services, OFSTED, Nottingham County Council and the charity sector.)
Impact: Hi, I’m from the University of Nottingham’s student magazine and I had a couple of questions?
The Police Inspector: We’re not allowed to answer questions. You’re press.
Impact: Could you just tell us a bit about the protests today and the police’s role in it then?
The Police Inspector: It’s all about keeping people safe, making sure the roads are clear, and making sure that people are safe to express their thoughts in the march today.
Impact: Do you have an idea of the number of people marching today?
The Police Inspector: About 3,000.
Impact: 3,000 is a lot of people to control – are there signs of any trouble or disruption so far?
The Police Inspector: No, so far it looks fine.
-Detective Inspector for Nottingham who wished to remain anonymous
(Policemen in action during the strikes)
Impact: Can you please explain why you’re striking today?
The Nurse: Yes, it’s in order to protect our pensions. They’re being eroded and we don’t think it’s fair. We’re all nurses and we do a good job and we have lots of people who didn’t want to come out on strike today, but we have no other option.
Impact: And what are you asking from the government?
The Nurse: From the government, we’re asking to keep our pensions intact and keep things as they are.
-Maddie McKeon, Nurse at Broomhill House Residential Rehabilitation Centre, Gedling, Nottingham
Impact: Can you give us an overview of what the strike is about today please?
The Socialist: It’s about different workers defending their pensions. I work at Loughborough University. Pensions schemes are under attack there and it’s the same with all the civil service and people within the industry. The government is trying to use the financial crisis as an excuse to attack our pensions.
Impact: What are you asking from the government and what are your demands?
The Socialist: Well we want them to re-negotiate really. We want them to see it more from our side, they’re making people suffer for less money and for longer.
Impact: Have the government not been satisfactory in their negotiations?
The Socialist: Their position is: ‘we’re trying to negotiate’, but they’re not really effectively negotiating; they haven’t really negotiated on much at all.
Impact: And can you please explain your stall to the Impact readers [the stall is covered with various leaflets, literature and banners]?
The Socialist: Well I work for the Socialist Party, so we’re fully supporting this. This could be the start of something bigger, for ordinary people to fight back. It’s about us taking collective action, right from the Occupy movement and everything related to it.
-Donald Tindall, Socialist Party Member and employee of Loughborough University