Firstly I should put my cards on the table and say to those who don't already know that I am a <<whispers>> public sector worker. Yesterday many public sector workers went on strike over reforms to their pensions which they feel are unfair. It was either 'a damp squib' if you believe the Government or the biggest public sector strike since yesterday/the 1920s/dinosaurs walked the earth, if you believe UNISON. Personally I'm not particularly minded to believe either of them.
Fortunately, I don't work on a Wednesday so the awkward question of whether to strike or not didn't rear its head. Even if it had, I would have chosen to work as normal. I don't agree with striking. I don't think it really achieves much. While I'm not quite up there with Jeremy Clarkson,slightly ironic considering the majority of his salary is paid by the taxpayer, I do think that there are better ways to try and resolve disputes. To be honest, I'm more aligned with Eleanor Smith, the vice-president of UNISON and a theatre nurse at Birmingham Women's Hospital,who told the press, rather unwisely I would have thought, that she only joined the NHS for the pension. A case study in how to alienate the public perhaps? I also wonder what she would have made of our own UNISON rep who actually went to work because striking would affect his final salary pension when he retires in a couple of years. How's that for solidarity with your fellow workers!
The Boy went shopping in Bath with his friends and was surprised to see many, many of his teachers, supposedly on strike, were enjoying an extra day of Christmas shopping. Surely they should have been manning the picket lines, or lobbying their MPs. At work, the picket line had disappeared by lunchtime.
I'm not sure how many people in the public sector actually realise how much the private sector is suffering. My brother is now entering his third year without a pay rise. The Husband is now working for around £600-800 a month less than he was two years ago. My dad has seen his pension cut by nearly 70% in the past two years. He was told it was either that or the pension fund would collapse. He's accepted the hit because he hopes that it will get better in the future. He can't go on strike because, after all, who'd care? Meanwhile my colleagues gripe about losing their very generous petrol allowance.
Only something like 35% of the private sector even have pensions, compared to around 82% in the public sector. Many private sector companies have no pension schemes and the returns on private pensions are so dire that those that can actually afford them will have to work well beyond the public sector retirement age of 65 just to be able to afford to retire. The Office for Fiscal Studies estimates that a private sector worker would have to pay between 15% and 40% of their monthly salary into a pension to get the same return as an average public sector one.
It's a difficult world we are living in today and everyone is suffering both in the public and the private sector. While I do blame the banks to a great extent for the mess we find ourselves in now, most of us also played our part in the financial crisis by maxing out our credit cards and buying houses we couldn't really afford. It's now time for everyone to pull together, to take one for the team, to do everything we can to dig out way out of this mess. And that's not going to happen while people are still demanding benefits that others can't afford or expecting to retire earlier on a pension that is funded by people who can't afford to retire themselves.
What has happened to that old Blitz spirit that the British used to be so renowned for? Everyone seems so self-centred, not interested in the bigger picture or the greater good, just in what they can get out of it. If we all pull together, act a bit more selflessly and a bit less selfishly, then things might just improve in the future for everyone.