Monday, 21 November 2011

'The markets' and the November 30 strike

Having plunged much of the world into economic crisis, the faceless money-men of ‘the markets’ are now deciding who should run individual countries.

Already they’ve engineered the demise of the democratically-elected prime minister of Greece – ‘the markets’ let it be known they would be ‘very unhappy’ if the Greek people were asked their opinion on the imposition of even more ‘austerity measures’ in order to pay debts owed to foreign banks.  Then, just days later, ‘the markets’ turned their attention to Italy.

Silvio Berlusconi is an easy person to dislike, but he was democratically elected as prime minister by the Italian people.  Such things don’t bother ‘the markets’.  The money-men decided Berlusconi had to go, so interest rates on Italian loans were raised to ‘unsustainable’ levels, and ‘the markets’ let it be known the prime minister was the problem.  If Berlusconi resigned, they argued, the rate at which Italy had to repay loans would be reduced.  Otherwise, the country – the third-largest economy in Europe – could face a situation where it was unable to meet its financial obligations…to foreign banks.

So, Berlusconi announced he would step down, but that wasn’t enough for ‘the markets’.  They want to be sure whoever replaces him will do exactly as they want, so the punitive interest rates charged to Italy remained in place.

‘The markets’ and those who operate them caused the economic crisis, and now they’re dictating how countries respond.  The measures demanded of individual nations always include slashing public spending, throwing hundreds-of-thousands out of work; forcing-down wages, pensions and benefits, cutting public services and selling-off public assets...all to ensure private companies can infiltrate the public sector, maximizing their profits by driving-down wages, conditions and levels of service, while the bankers who operate ‘the markets’ are re-financed, allowing them to begin again their financial gambling.

Thankfully, in Scotland and across Britain, the fight-back is beginning.  Many trade unions representing public sector workers have balloted members and have received a mandate to take strike action on November 30.  The unions have made clear they are available – any time, any place – for talks with the UK Government, but it is unlikely the Tory-Lib Dem administration will be persuaded to end its attacks on ordinary working men and women.  Even if there had been no collapse of global capitalism, the Tories would still be attacking the public sector – it’s what Tories always do.  The Liberal Democrats, supporting the Tories every step of the way, will be wiped from the political map for their treachery, which is exactly what they deserve.

On November 30, in addition to the large public sector trade unions, such as UNISON and the PCS, strike action will also be taken by the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), which means we will see the first strike by Scottish teachers in 25 years.  Although the Royal College of Nursing is not involved in the proposed action, many nurses are members of other trade unions and have supported the strike.  Of course, as has been the case in the past, nurses and unions will agree levels of cover for the day of the strike to ensure no patient is put at risk.

No-one takes strike action if it can be avoided, so we can be sure those who will withdraw their labour on November 30 feel they have no option.  Striking is the last resort, a very serious course of action taken in an attempt to get through to the government in London.  However, the chances that the Tory-led Government will listen are not good.

The attitude of Cameron and Clegg was emphasised by the Government’s response to the unions’ mandates to strike.  Immediately, Ministers attempted to split workers by announcing that those within 10 years of retiring could keep their previously-agreed pension levels, but everyone else would have to work beyond the age of 65, pay increased contributions, and receive less when they finally do retire.

The attempt won’t work, workers know this isn’t just about pension entitlement: it is about a sustained attack on the public sector and on ordinary men and women.  The Government’s action is about slashing public expenditure, but not because it has to be done – the UK’s debt as a percentage of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is currently much lower than it was for the majority of the 20th Century.  Nor is it about public sector pensions being ‘unaffordable’ – the current bill is less than 2 per cent of GDP – and the current average pension paid to a local government worker is just £4,000.

The reason the UK Government is slashing public expenditure, throwing hundreds-of-thousands of people onto the dole, and is increasing the pension contributions of teachers, nurses and local government workers is to generate ‘financial savings’, which will be redirected to provide liquidity for private banks – the same banks that caused the economic crisis – and to finance ‘the markets’ operating out of the London Stock Exchange.

One final point: the UK Government and the right-wing media will attempt to split workers by telling those employed by private companies that their counterparts in the public sector are getting one over on them by having better pensions.  Here is the reality: directors in the UK’s top 100 businesses currently rake-in pensions of more than £200,000 per year.  The most senior executives at these firms are sitting on pension funds worth £5.2million – giving them a yearly pension of £333,400.  Bosses are robbing their own workers to feather their pension nests, while the Tory-Lib Dem Government attempts to convince us that the solution is a race to the bottom, by dragging-down the pensions of public-sector workers.

The Westminster Government of Toffs – the original Cabinet after the 2010 General Election had 23 millionaires and 4 ex-bankers – is waging war on ordinary men, women and children.  They are attempting to force us to pay for bailing-out their well-heeled friends in ‘the markets’ – we’ve already contributed over £1trillion.

It’s time we fought back.  Support the striking workers on November 30.

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