There’s nothing ideological about it, it’s simple arithmetic

You get offered a job in modern Britain.  A job doing vital, meaningful work. You’ll keep the country running.  You’ll make a real difference to people’s lives. You might even save lives.  Without you and your colleagues Britain would unravel. Government ministers are so grateful that they film themselves clapping for you on a Thursday evening through the pandemic.  Interested? 

There’s just one catch… every year, you’ll be paid less.  Your wages won’t keep up with the rampant inflation gripping our country. Your bills will increase. Food prices will rise. Fuel costs will rocket. But your income will flatline.

I said there was one catch. But there’s more. You take the job, but colleagues keep leaving.  Others are going off sick with stress.  There’s more and more work for you now. You get more and more tired. You see your family less and less. It gets so bad that your canteen starts offering free porridge because your teammates can’t afford breakfast. (No, I didn’t make this up. Yes, this has really happened.)

You hear about staff sleeping in their cars because they’re exhausted and can’t afford the petrol for the ride home. (Welcome to nursing!) Or your bosses expect you to drive all over the country, whatever hour you’re called out, but won’t reimburse you when you’re haemorrhaging money by filling up your car at the pumps. (Welcome to the rail industry!) And still your pay falls.  Eventually, you and your colleagues come together and agree. Enough is enough.

But here’s the thing: the Government doesn’t think you should have the right to ask for more. They enforce restrictions to stop you.  Ballots for industrial action must involve putting slips of paper in a physical box.  (No, I didn’t make this up, either.) It’s 2023, you say. Everything – everything – is online now.  Tough, they reply. Paper and box or we’ll prosecute.

But enough is enough – ballot thresholds were smashed.  But instead of negotiating, Government changes the rules again.  There’s no headline in industrial harmony.  No red meat for the backbenchers.  Besides, it would draw attention to the profits being extracted from our public services.  And how much of it get channelled through tax havens. 

So they bring in anti-strike laws.  If Sunak and Co.’s new legislation doesn’t scare you, think of it this way. The Government wants to legally compel people to work against their will.   There’s a word for that: conscription.  It sounds like something from Putin’s Russia.  This is the same Government that said disrupting deliveries of the Daily Telegraph was an act of terrorism. 

In fact under the international Forced Labour Convention no. 29, forced labour is defined as “work or service which is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”.  It must not be used “as a means of labour discipline” or “punishment for participation in strikes.”  That was adopted into UK law in the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. 

It’s not the strikes causing our services to fail. It’s our failing services causing the strikes – neglected and deprived of investment for years. 

Key workers aren’t demanding ‘a pay rise’. They’re trying to reduce their pay cuts – as inflation eats away their wages.  There’s nothing ideological about it – it’s simple arithmetic. 

And we’re not talking about a few rogue employees here.  You’ll hear commentators asking “do the public support the strikes?”  I’d point out: 100,000 nurses, 100,000 posties, 70,000 university staff, 40,000 rail workers, 100,000 civil servants, thousands of ambulance staff all taking action, hundreds of 1000s of teachers being balloted – that is the public!

The trade unions are protecting the wages and conditions of all workers.  They set the benchmark.  Even if you’re not in a union, they help you.  So join a union, and help them back. 

So… this is work in modern Britain.  Interested?  No?  You’re not alone.  That’s why there’s a recruitment crisis.  The question that commentators never seem to ask is why has it fallen on working people to defend our public services?  Isn’t that the Government’s job? 

If it were up to me, I’d be out clapping for our trade union members on a Thursday evening.