Striking over pension cuts: A New General Strike?
Few commentators have highlighted the newness of strikes starting on 30th June. They are about pension cuts as opposed to higher wages, or better conditions, or management victimisation of strikers, or racist or sexist behaviour at work.
Fundamentally the strikes are about the future of workers incomes after they have retired. These issues are in the future for most existing workers; not the present. Union concerns about pensions is not new, but striking about it is. This is important as it deals with a standard criticism of strikes, seeing them as a form of greed for more money today. Put positively, these strikes show a popular concern for an ageing society.
It has been argued by the government that private sectors pensions are lower than public sector pensions. This makes private sector pensions the norm against which all pensions should be judged. There are two problems here. One is that this judgement produces a race to the bottom in pensions. Secondly, private sector pensions vary greatly in size. Compare the pension of the bank cashier to that of the bank director.
Another standard criticism of strikes is that they cause frustration, and alienate the public. This may well happen. But what if this strike is seen more positively? Could this be the beginning of the end of unions being portrayed as a negative force in society? Watch this space.
Machiavelli thought that wars should be spectacular, successful and short. Calling for rolling strikes, and invoking the memories of 1926 appears to call for a lengthy campaign. This could well undermine the possibility of a longer term optimism.
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