So the country is bracing itself for the worst public sector strikes in a generation on Wednesday (30 November). Participants will include teachers, medical staff and immigration officers. According to the BBC the strike could see up to two million workers ‘down tools’ and the Treasury are claiming the cost to the economy could be in the region of £500 million. The Government are claiming that the unions are to blame for deciding to go on strike even while negotiations are ongoing and union bosses have retaliated by accusing the Prime Minister of “demonising them”.
The strike action is happening as a result of proposals by the Government to make public sector workers pay more into their pensions, work for longer and accept a pension in retirement based on average earnings. The Government claims with people living longer the current system is outdated and unaffordable.
An interesting twist on this particular round of strike action is the fact that it involves immigration workers who are still reeling from the relaxing border controls fiasco in which they feel the Home Secretary Theresa May used their boss, Brodie Clark, the then boss of the UK Border Agency as a scapegoat for her own failings. To add insult to injury a significant proportion of the 800 UKBA staff that have been trained to take over immigration staff duties in the event of strike action have decided to walk out instead.
So what do the politicians think about the strikes? Ex postman and Home Office Secretary Alan Johnson was clear when asked if he agreed with the strikes, he firmly replied “yes”. His colleagues in the Labour party have not been as quick to follow this line though. The Labour leader Ed Miliband is caught between a rock and a hard place. He knows politically he can’t support the strikes (much to the annoyance of the unions who put him in his position) but he will not be condemning them either (much to the annoyance of the Government).
And finally what does a political consultant think about the upcoming strike? Even though the strike on Wednesday will be the largest in a generation I’m not sure it will prove a fruitful exercise for the unions. Coming a day after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement (which no one is expecting to bring positive news) people up and down the country will be wondering whether the message has got through to some people that the world is a different place to a few years ago and that as painful as it may be we all have to accept some of the responsibility for the crash of 2008. The party is over and we all have to clear up. So expect to see a ‘Dunkirk spirit’ with volunteers teaching in schools, children being brought in to workplaces and who knows, maybe even Theresa May will be down at Heathrow checking some passports.