Tuesday, 20 October 2009

As election looms can we remember how bad it was before?

As the run-up to a General Election approaches, the temptation might be to say ‘a plague on all their houses’ but the risks for public service workers are too great to just stand on the sidelines. http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/siu/oct09/10.html

SiU has focussed on pensions recently for the simple reason that Tory leaders have been explicit that final salary schemes will go. So there’s at least one reason why public service workers should start thinking about the election.

And by the way, it might be worth telling anyone who cares to listen that ‘final salary’ does not mean your whole final salary as some pundits seem to think. That would be good, eh?

Then what about the economy? Whether you like the government or not, most experts now seem to agree it got it just about right to avoid disaster - despite other parties opposing.

But should public service workers - who don’t get big bonuses, cheap mortgages and big pay rises when things are going well - have to pay for all that when the fat cats screw up? Of course not.

But that is exactly what David Cameron is suggesting with his pay freeze and public sector cuts. If public sector pay is to match the economy, I want to know where my big pay rises went when things were going good.

One of the advantages of the average age profile of UNISON members is that lots of us can remember the Thatcher/Major years.

So here’s some memories. Interest rates of 15%, mortgage repayments doubling, sitting there for ages and never below 8% for more than six years. People having to sell up because they never imagined their mortgage would shoot up so much. That’s hard to believe now but it’s worth remembering if the state of the economy will influence your vote.

You might want to hear from the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, who say that “direct tax and benefit changes made by the previous Conservative governments acted to increase income inequality, whereas those made by since 1997-98 have benefited the poor by more than the rich”.

The greed of those who got us into this mess is not new. The foundations were set in the ‘yuppie’ days of the 80s and early 90s. The destruction of manufacturing and communities on one hand while financial greed at the other was elevated to a virtue - and we are still paying for it.

And what about our public services? Remember the NHS ‘safe in their hands’? With forced privatisations, internal markets, cheapest is best, and make a profit by cutting wages - hardly.

Oh, and the Poll Tax. Enough said.

Invest in services

UNISON has been consistent that the only way out of recession is to invest in services, boost the economy and get us working again.

And it’s not just UNISON saying it. Professor David Blanchflower, an ex member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, told the Telegraph, “We must not repeat the mistakes of the 1930s by assuming a recovery is taking place and then cutting spending and raising interest rates too early. Such action could push the economy into a decade-long depression.”

So, if any of us public service workers are thinking that it’s time for a change - or perhaps we’re so fed up we were not going to vote - maybe it’s worth thinking about what will happen to our services, our pay, our pensions, our jobs.

The election will be critical for all of those.

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