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November 30, 2011 6:25 AM   Subscribe

The UK is experiencing some of its worst disruption to services in decades as more than 2 million public sector workers stage a nationwide strike, closing schools and bringing councils and hospitals to a virtual standstill.

More than twenty unions are supporting the Wednesday 30 November protest over cuts to public sector pensions.


Department for Education figures suggest more than half (58%) of England's 21,700 state schools are closed, with another 13% partly shut. In Scotland, 30 of the 2,700 council-run schools are believed to be open, says local authority body Cosla, while in Wales 80% of schools are shut. In Northern Ireland, three of the five education library boards have reported that over 50% of 1,200 schools are closed.

The government claim that the protest is a "damp squib" and that "those reforms are absolutely essential" and the strikes are "irresponsible, inappropriate and untimely".


The right wing commentariat go further, calling the protesters "selfish and weak" and "a symptom of a culture in parts of the educational establishment that is quick to complain and slow to find solutions."

On the other side, commenters say that "This government cancelled the tax on bankers’ bonuses. Instead it has brought in a nurses’, teachers’ and lollipop ladies’ tax. This is what the increase in pension contributions – around £1,000 a year for a nurse – really means. It is not paying for pensions but going straight to the Treasury to fill the hole left by the bonus tax." and The 3.2% contributions hike is a tax on a workforce whose living standards have already been heavily squeezed by repeated pay freezes. Pensions aren't a perk, but deferred pay. Protecting pay and conditions is what unions are for.

Channel 4 fact Check weighs in on whether the costs of public sector pensions are going up (answer: no) and the claim of Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury,: that the new deal will mean better pensions for many low and middle income earners. (answer: not really)
posted by Jakey (79 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Privatize the profits, socialize the losses.
posted by lalochezia at 6:28 AM on November 30, 2011 [19 favorites]


Wouldn't it be cool if they did this in the US?
posted by From Bklyn at 6:28 AM on November 30, 2011 [29 favorites]


solidarity!

*fist in air*
posted by DU at 6:29 AM on November 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Pensions aren't a perk, but deferred pay.

You really can't say this loudly enough or often enough. People get bent out of shape about pensions but just shake their heads over "golden parachutes," even though the latter often seem to reward incompetence and increase costs on consumers.

Why is it that we are angry at being taxed by governments, bit when corporations do it, it's OK?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:32 AM on November 30, 2011 [37 favorites]


We might not have solidarity, coordinated striking or respect for the working class in my country, but at least we call them crossing guards, god dammit!
posted by griphus at 6:34 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


"The claim that public sector pensions should be low because private sector pensions are low is often heard. But why should it be true? Why not instead make the opposite argument: that the only reason why private sector pensions are as high as they are is because they face competition from the public sector.

Some business may offer a fair pension out of the goodness of their heart, but many more offer the lowest that they can get away with – and if workers aren’t offered a better alternative in the public sector, then that low will be much, much lower."


- From LeftFootForward's 'Four myths about today's strikes busted.'

Solidarity.
posted by knapah at 6:38 AM on November 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


Its becoming an increasingly visible pattern isn't it - people protesting stuff and the government throwing up its hands in despair and blaming everything but any of its own policies.
posted by infini at 6:40 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


In a similar vein to knapah's link, here are some strike action briefing notes (PDF), courtesy of the University and College Union.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:42 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Occupy London put out a call to converge at Piccadilly Circus at 3pm. I expect they have something planned.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:42 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


From knapah's link: Despite claims of “apathy” from politicians such as Boris Johnson, the response from the thirty unions which have been balloted has been strongly in favour of the strike.

Yeah, claims by politicians that apathy delegitimizes worker action is kind of like facebook claiming loudly that users don't care about privacy. What you wish was true and what is true are not the same thing, guys. On the other hand, since we've had 30 years of "leadership" that clearly believes that claiming a thing and proving it are identical, I guess it's not surprising to see this....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on November 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


One thing that really surprises me is that any government would respond to a recession like the one begun in 2008 with "austerity" measures.

It seems to ignore the lessons of the 1930s: if money is allowed to collect in the hands of a few rich people and corporations, they will either move it out of the country to avoid paying tax or sit on it. Meanwhile, everybody else will hoard what little money they have. The whole economy stalls.

I realise that Keynes was not, perhaps, a perfect answer to all possible problems with managing an economy.

Nevertheless, I thought we had this depression-economics problem sorted. Austerity measures don't seem to be working in practice - and a lot of them seem to boil down to a pretext for slashing workers pensions and squeezing more labour out of people for less pay.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:46 AM on November 30, 2011 [34 favorites]


Not taking a pro or con stance on the strike ... but I've repeatedly heard people claiming that this 1-day strike alone is causing massive and irreparable damage to our fragile economy. One commentator on the radio this morning suggested the strike could push the country back into recession, mainly because so many otherwise efficient private sector workers are having to take time off to care for children.

These people might be interested to note that the UK had public holidays added last year and next year to allow the masses to bask in reflected royal glory. Not may people claimed these extra days of rest were going to cause the sky to fall in.

I'm not a striker but certainly managed to get more done this morning because there was far less traffic on the roads and my daughter was around to act as a handy unpaid helper. How do I get these productivity boosts added to the figures?
posted by samworm at 6:49 AM on November 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


How the hell did George Osborne become Chancellor? It boggles the mind.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:49 AM on November 30, 2011


Everybody out? The proper phrase is "down tools."

1971: Workers down tools over union rights

Hundreds of thousands of workers across Britain have taken part in an unofficial day of protest against the government's new industrial relations Bill. Figures suggest over 100,000 workers walked out on strike in London alone - although only a tiny proportion of that number, about 2,000 joined a march through the capital. Some reports suggest as many as 1.5 million people stopped work across the country.


These sorts of strikes do not always achieve their desired result. After years of labor unrest and union strikes in the 1970s the British people not striking elected Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1979. She basically ran on a platform of breaking the unions - which she proceeded to do for 11 years with the support of large swaths of the British public.

It will be interesting to see if teachers and other public sector workers will find the same lack of support coal miners and other industrial workers had amongst the British population.
posted by three blind mice at 6:51 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


...breaking the unions - which she proceeded to do for 11 years with the support of large swaths of the British public.

But this isn't because strikes don't work. It's because lying to voters (sometimes) works even better.
posted by DU at 6:54 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


The government rhetoric boils down to "We're all in this together, and how dare you complain while others suffer hardship?". It's the rhetoric that (on preview, as three blind mice points out) worked for Thatcher, and if Cameron's anything at all, it's a slightly dim version of Thatcher. In the 70s, the Conservatives essentially played the north-south divide to win popular support (at least in the south) against gruff, dirty northerners. I don't think they'll have such an easy ride getting the Daily Mail readership to turn against teachers and health workers, though.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Polly Toynbee was good today.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:02 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


One commentator on the radio this morning suggested the strike could push the country back into recession
Yes, that's being brought up consistently on the reports that I am seeing today.

If a one-day strike by workers can push an economy into recession, one would think there are more fundamental problems with that economy than a one-day strike.

I wonder to what degree the Occupy protests and the general protests by students and unions are complementary. Perhaps the goals are different (economic restructuring vs. benefits protection) but there is a synergy in terms of angry people taking it to the streets.

The populous seem to be developing the mentality that not only are there economic problems, but that the money was literally stolen, and continues being stolen.

When Branson's acquisition of Northern Rock was announced, the goodwill in the form of a loss to taxpayers was estimated to be £400M. That's £6.43 for every person in the UK. In the minds of many that I have spoken with, talk of change is just talk, for the capital class continues enriching itself whilst the labour class continues suffering and paying for the gains of capital.

The populous is really awake now, and seeing that whilst the average citizenry in most countries continues to suffer due to the global economic crisis, it's really a crisis primarily affecting the labour classes. Thus, the attention is turning away from global markets, and toward national governments.

It's hard to see an end-game that does not involve the wealthy returning their gains back to national societies, for as long as financial capital remains locked up in corporate and personal bank accounts, societies will continue to destabilise.

The UK government is using the recession as the reason for deep, deep cuts that primarily affect the labour classes. At some point, all those cuts will have been made, and subsequent slow-downs in spending may very will reduce government profits. At that point, there is going to have to be conversation about moving private profits back into the larger economy somehow, for there will simply be no other solution.

One of the problems seems to be that as the economy sputters along, things are actually better for capital classes, as prices come down. Thus, it's actually in capital's short term interest to see the economy stagnate, for their holdings go further.

All that aside, as an American in London, it is impressive seeing general strikes on this scale -- I believe this is the third time this year we have seen large-scale strikes. I don't recall having seen such massive direct action in the United States at any point.
posted by nickrussell at 7:03 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Meanwhile, the automagically generated Google News page (generic, non-logged-in edition) doesn't have a single story on the page about this. At least, not at this time.
posted by hippybear at 7:14 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


A public sector strike eighteen months after the Tories gain power? Nope, couldn't have predicted it. No way, no how.
posted by ob at 7:17 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having condemned the strikers or sabotaging the economy, costing billions and disrupting life for millions of people, the government now claims the strike is having little impact. Can't have it both ways, lads.
posted by WPW at 7:18 AM on November 30, 2011 [13 favorites]


Can't have it both ways, lads.

Have you not see the news in the last 25 years? Having it both ways is exactly why the GOP and the Conservatives are still around.
posted by eriko at 7:20 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


One commentator on the radio this morning suggested the strike could push the country back into recession

To be fair, this sort of argument is used whenever labor attempts to be anything other than cowering, whipped puppies...good times, bad times, it doesn't matter. It's a classic strawman.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:23 AM on November 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Meanwhile, the automagically generated Google News page (generic, non-logged-in edition) doesn't have a single story on the page about this. At least, not at this time.

It's the number 2 story on (non-logged in) News.Google.co.uk.
posted by Jahaza at 7:24 AM on November 30, 2011


It's because lying to voters (sometimes) works even better.

Margaret Thatcher was pretty unequivocal in her views towards British Unions. She hated them and vowed to break them - and I don't think she was lying about that. She vigorously pursued this policy openly and without shame. Like Reaganism, the people got what they voted for with Thatcherism.

All I am saying is that the big public sector union strikes in the 1970s Britain resulted in something other than a wave of voter sympathy. It had, in fact, the exact opposite effect: it created voter support for someone who promised to crush the unions.

But maybe Britain is now more like France and the result will be different this time.
posted by three blind mice at 7:25 AM on November 30, 2011


One commentator on the radio this morning suggested the strike could push the country back into recession

... Which accepts that the public sector makes an important contribution to the economy, undercutting a good part of the rationale for austerity. Again: can't have it both ways.
posted by WPW at 7:25 AM on November 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


excellent post, Jakey - thanks for this.

solidarity!
posted by jammy at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2011




...if Cameron's anything at all, it's a slightly dim version of Thatcher.

In the fullest sense of the word.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:41 AM on November 30, 2011


From Bklyn: "Wouldn't it be cool if they did this in the US?"

I've speculated on this, and have come to the conclusion that it probably wouldn't work in the US. "The 1%" barely use any public services as it is, and would barely feel the effects of such a strike.

Similarly, it would disproportionately hurt the people who actually depend on those public services, and further increase the (unfair) sentiment against public-sector workers. Strikes don't work when more of half of the country actively lobbies against its own interests.

Basically, we're screwed.
posted by schmod at 7:41 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Forgive me for a derail, but I've been hearing a lot about pensions in the U.S. recently and hopefully it's relevant ...)

I think the public pension issue is fascinating, and tricky. On the one hand, there's the argument that, at least in certain towns in the U.S., public unions captured a huge portion of the increased local tax revenue when the economy was strong, and locked in those gains long-term via pension plans, contributing to crippling local budget problems when the economy slowed down:
He hands me a chart. It shows that the city’s pension costs when he first became interested in the subject were projected to run $73 million a year. This year they would be $245 million: pension and health-care costs of retired workers now are more than half the budget. In three years’ time pension costs alone would come to $400 million, though “if you were to adjust for real life expectancy it is more like $650 million.” Legally obliged to meet these costs, the city can respond only by cutting elsewhere. As a result, San Jose, once run by 7,450 city workers, was now being run by 5,400 city workers. The city was back to staffing levels of 1988, when it had a quarter of a million fewer residents. The remaining workers had taken a 10 percent pay cut; yet even that was not enough to offset the increase in the city’s pension liability. The city had closed its libraries three days a week. It had cut back servicing its parks. It had refrained from opening a brand-new community center, built before the housing bust, because it couldn’t pay to staff the place. For the first time in history it had laid off police officers and firefighters.
On the other hand ... well, the city agreed to it. And it's earned income. And I talked to a teacher over Thanksgiving who may soon have her "pension" (actually the state-employee version of Social Security) taken away even though it's been paid for by deductions from her paycheck for years. So it seems like in some cases there's a real fiscal problem with agreements cities never should have committed to and won't be able to pay, and in other cases there's some folks with pensions they've earned who are going to get thrown under the bus. It's impossible to tell from anecdotes which one dominates, but they're both powerful political narratives, and I wonder how on earth we'll navigate this thing.

(There's interesting echoes here of third-world countries crippled by debt incurred by past governments, and investment bankers who are paid huge bonuses while the economy tanks ... also issues at which I personally throw up my hands and hope someone else comes up with something.)
posted by Honorable John at 7:41 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Solidarity! Workers of the world, unite!

Remember when that last phrase was considered "pinko"? Those of us raised/trained to believe that communism, socialism etc. were the ENEMY are now living with what unbridled US capitalism has engendered... and it ain't pretty.

Who is the enemy now?
posted by kinnakeet at 7:41 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Solidarity! Workers of the world, unite!

Remember when that last phrase was considered "pinko"? Those of us raised/trained to believe that communism, socialism etc. were the ENEMY are now living with what unbridled US capitalism has engendered... and it ain't pretty.

Who is the enemy now?


As a person born in the 80s ('85), I'm starting to self-recognize along these lines the more I read of the current protests and classist system inherent in the United States. It just seems to make far more sense than anything my parents believed (GOP, right-wing evangelicals), in the face of the blatant manipulation and hatred found in current American conservative narratives.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 7:47 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


A strike like this in the US would do nothing except cause an increase in the stock price of pepper-spray manufacturers.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:49 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


One commentator on the radio this morning suggested the strike could push the country back into recession

As important as they are, I doubt the immediate economic impact would be that severe if it were only the teachers and hospital workers (recall that health care is nationalized there) who were striking. I think the trade unions and transport unions are doing the heavy lifting in this regard.

(I am *not* saying that education and healthcare are not important; I'm just saying that they aren't sources of economic revenue. Not immediately, anyway - education helps grow the economy through training more skilled workers, and healthcare helps reduce workforce losses due to illness and accidents, but they are not in themselves profit industries. And something doesn't have to be a profit center to be important to a society - but those are most significant when we're talking about recessions).

Never underestimate the impact of being supported by the teamster's union, is what I'm saying.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:51 AM on November 30, 2011


if Cameron's anything at all, it's a slightly dim version of Thatcher.

"Slightly"?!
posted by Skeptic at 7:53 AM on November 30, 2011


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this '80s revival fad is getting ridiculous.
posted by Skeptic at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


All I am saying is that the big public sector union strikes in the 1970s Britain resulted in something other than a wave of voter sympathy. It had, in fact, the exact opposite effect: it created voter support for someone who promised to crush the unions.

Even my left wing friends think the public sector workers are being entitled and selfish, primarily because they have a 'perk' that struggling private sector people don't have. When you can make a direct comparison between what someone else has and what you don't have it's very difficult to think any further. And most people can't or won't try.

But maybe Britain is now more like France and the result will be different this time.

I very, very much doubt it. If the left wing are unsympathetic, they're screwed. This is, in fact, going to hand the moral upper hand to the Tories, paving way for a second election victory. Kill me now.
posted by Summer at 7:59 AM on November 30, 2011


One commentator on the radio this morning suggested the strike could push the country back into recession


Would that it were true. It would convince more people to take to the streets in more countries. Especially so those that have it so bad already there's no real risk involved in sinking what's left in the bathtub as the baby drowns. Look at Wall St. today -- dow up 400 pts on a globally coordinated credit easing by numerous central banks, which buried the lead (major European commercial banks downgraded overnight). Oh and a mild uptick in employment, maybe, like finding a little dry room on the Titanic. And of course, massive black friday/cyber monday sales.

What are Americans thinking? Because if we can't pull off a massive labor action in the US, we damn sure could express some consumer power and not buy so much stuff. But that's like asking a meth addict to wait until next week to get high.

The only leverage workers have is a refusal to accept the scraps they still throw us. Or to buy the crap they still need to sell us.
posted by spitbull at 8:05 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, the automagically generated Google News page (generic, non-logged-in edition) doesn't have a single story on the page about this. At least, not at this time.

It's the #1 "World Story" now for me (logged in, US-California).

Workers of the world, unite!

Remember when that last phrase was considered "pinko"?


Uh, remember? It certainly still is where I live. Always has been (since I've been around). I mean, that's a quote from the Communist Manifesto. ??

Those of us raised/trained to believe that communism, socialism etc. were the ENEMY are now living with what unbridled US capitalism has engendered... and it ain't pretty.

I think some of us recognized propaganda, jingoism, and provincial nationalism when we saw it, even if we were 10.

Also, the US is hardly unbridled capitalism--farm subsidies, tax deductions, social Security, EDD, etc. The US is not very good at controlling its economy, but it is at least a partially centrally planned economy.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:08 AM on November 30, 2011


I must disagree with you Summer. There are two strong lessons to the general public arising from this strike. Firstly, every time the coalition say that one day without (a subsection of) public sector workers will damage the economy they undermine their previous argument that the public sector are worthless. the Lib Dem Danny Alexander said that the strike could cost the UK economy half a billion pounds - although the strikers are taking no pay. Ergo those same strikers are contributing a billion pounds more that their wage costs every two days. This is not an abstruse point, I think it's pretty obvious. Plus the actual experience of doing without these supposedly worthless people makes the point eloquently.

Secondly, those people who say 'It's not fair, I am private sector, I have no Union and my pension is rubbish' are answered 'well, get a Union, start defending yourself'. If they see the strength of collective action, and how it makes the ruling classes scared, they may be more likely to want to join with others for their own defence in the future.
posted by communicator at 8:08 AM on November 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Or to buy the crap they still need to sell us.

A boycott of Christmas would be much more effective than a general strike, imo. Who's with me! (aside from you dirty Atheists, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, FSMers, and Zoroastrians ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not long ago, I was reading about this - a strike which genuinely changed working conditions for a lot of people. And then an 'entrepreneur' on my Facebook feed, during the last strike, wrote that there's no need for unions now as nobody is dying from poor working conditions. So I guess now I know how the Tories got votes.
posted by mippy at 8:14 AM on November 30, 2011


Regarding the public support for the strikes a recent poll suggests 61% of people believe public sector workers are justified in going on strike over pension changes.
There is also a YouGov/Sunday Times poll that has opposition to the strike at around the 50% level, but digging deeper shows that they couch their question more directly in relation to schools, no doubt fishing for the "how will I cope?" response.
posted by Jakey at 8:15 AM on November 30, 2011


I would totally get behind Boycott Christmas.
posted by rahnefan at 8:20 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Government's rhetoric has been ludicrous. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, suggested that public sector workers could stage a 'token action' by going on strike for 15 minutes. He then poured scorn on the strike ballots. claiming that 'the turnouts have been very low', although my own union (Prospect) voted 75% for strike action on a turnout of 52%. (For comparison: the percentage voting Conservative at the last general election was 36% on a turnout of 65%.) Meanwhile, the Daily Mail declares that we are 'top Civil Service mandarins' with 'gold-plated pensions', which when I contemplate my own pension provision (current projection: around £5000 per annum) seems like a sick joke.

This isn't a re-run of 1970s/80s trade-union militancy. Jokes about cloth-capped shop stewards, 'Down tools!' and 'Everybody out!' belong to a different era. By breaking the closed shop, the Thatcher government massively reduced union membership and made it much more difficult to call workers out on strike. As for my own union, we're hardly a hotbed of left-wing militancy; this is the first time we've been out on strike in thirty years. Unfortunately, the Government's attitude to the unions is basically an adversarial one: for the Cameron government, as for the Thatcher government, the unions are the 'enemy within' whose power has to be broken by force. I voted reluctantly for strike action because I felt the Government couldn't be trusted to negotiate in good faith.

The good news is that many public sector workers who hadn't joined a union are now seeing the point of union membership and signing up in droves. And the efforts of the Government and the right-wing press to discredit the strike (look out for headlines like 'striking hospital workers left 89-year-old gran to die' in tomorrow's Daily Mail) are an encouraging sign that they are genuinely scared.
posted by verstegan at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


At a time when the United States government has recently spent so much "political capital" wielding violence against peaceful protesters, I feel like this is an excellent time for people here to join a union and strike.

Historically, the U.S. has been rabidly violent towards union organizing, but at this moment, it seems that anti-protest violence has incited a mild crisis of legitimacy. It has certainly raised suspicions in the public about who the government is actually working for.

So maybe, just maybe, nobody will get shot for striking this time, because that might be the last straw. I'll be watching the planned West Coast Port Blockade with interest.

If you want real change in the United States, though, don't join an AFL-CIO affiliated union.

Go IWW.
posted by edguardo at 8:38 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Occupy London targets UK’s highest paid FTSE CEO
About 60 protestors gained entry into the offices of mining company Xstrata, a ‘leading light’ of the FTSE 100 and British industry to highlight the fact that CEO Mick Davies was the highest compensated CEO of all the FTSE 100 companies in the last year, when his companies had losses and the economy collapsed. He received £18,426,105 for his efforts.

...


The protesters today are making the connection between the slashing of private and public sector pensions, while supposed ‘top’ executives cash in by increasing their own pay levels, leaving many without pensions. These CEOs like Mick Davies lavishly secure their own futures while ignoring the security and wellbeing of their own workers.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:40 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I also expect the Daily Hate and similar to come out with stories to discredit the strike. What they won't say is that Unison has ordered various essential staff that they cannot strike, and must go into work (on a 'most basic cover only' basis - the sort of service you'd expect on Christmas day). The hospital where I am has had reduced service today, so, for example, no non-emergency outpatient clinics and pre-prepared sandwiches for all meals - but patient safety has never been compromised. People in public service unions generally believe in public service, and do not take action like this lightly.
posted by Coobeastie at 8:50 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If people "aren't supposed to strike" because it will inconvenience (even seriously inconvenience) others, where does that logic end? If I'm a nurse, should I work for a dollar a day because otherwise I'm leaving my patients?

I think blaming the British unions of the seventies and eighties for the Tories is going it a little - I'm not British, but this particular period in the UK has always fascinated me so I've read a bit about it. The recession of the seventies was a lot bigger than just a bunch of unions making demands, for one thing. And the jobs on which the unions had depended were being outsourced/eradicated by larger trends, meaning that their members were in crisis and that there was nothing to offer them - if you're working on outsourcing your woolen milling to another country, you have no incentive to respond to your UK workers, for example. Then there's the whole North Sea Oil thing that enabled Thatcher to bust the miners' unions without causing a giant energy crisis. And the organized, violent right-wing support for breaking the miners' strike (which still boggles me) and the way the Thatcher government systematically defunded and privatized as much of social services as it could at the time. And the concerted ideological attacks ("no such thing as society", etc) which really do matter.

And we had our own Thatcher - Reagan - over here, and if you want to blame union militancy for his rise you have a lot of footwork to do. There was an ideological turn in the early eighties that was proactive, not reactive, and backed by a lot of money power.

Also, the difference between now and the seventies - unions were stronger, more ideologized and more utopian in the seventies, with lots of union organizers who really believed in what you might call communism-by-other-means...a three day week, substantial economic leveling. I don't, personally, think that's so terrible - but it's a very different position to take from now, when everyone is so squeezed. A lot more people support basic capitalist social inequality than support "capitalism is pushing me to the point where I can't make rent and can never retire".
posted by Frowner at 8:51 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


And I talked to a teacher over Thanksgiving who may soon have her "pension" (actually the state-employee version of Social Security) taken away even though it's been paid for by deductions from her paycheck for years.

No doubt she's had money deducted from her paycheck to "pay" for her pension, but were her contributions actually enough to fully cover the payouts for her pension? AFAIK, some public pension funds often require unrealistic and frankly unachieveable returns on their investments (something like ~8%) to fully fund the promised payouts from the pensions. And when the returns fall short (as they almost certainly will given the unrealistic return expectations), it only spurs on the funds to take more risks, leading to even greater shortfalls and so on.
posted by gyc at 8:59 AM on November 30, 2011


Oh, and to add, two unions which haven't striked since the 70s are the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association - they didn't join the strike today, but at national meetings over the summer it's been made clear that strike action is now a possibility. It's difficult to get across how seriously out of the ordinary this all is.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:01 AM on November 30, 2011


One reason you won't see many US unionized public school teachers joining general strikes is that the terms of our contracts forbid it, under pain of forfeiting our pensions, among other things.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:06 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


No doubt she's had money deducted from her paycheck to "pay" for her pension, but were her contributions actually enough to fully cover the payouts for her pension? AFAIK, some public pension funds often require unrealistic and frankly unachieveable returns on their investments (something like ~8%) to fully fund the promised payouts from the pensions. And when the returns fall short (as they almost certainly will given the unrealistic return expectations), it only spurs on the funds to take more risks, leading to even greater shortfalls and so on.

Well, that's quite the unsupported straw man pension fund. Are you under the impression that the UK Treasury is run by imberciles?
posted by jaduncan at 9:12 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a radical thought.

Maybe... the bogeyman isn't the problem.

Maybe Commies, who helped bring the 40-hr work week, mandatory overtime pay for overtime work, and an end to child labor, weren't all bad for the US political system, even while they were a viable part of it.

Maybe most of the feared "pinkos" of the 60s and 70s were more activist, than revolutionary.

Maybe the terrorists kill and otherwise harm far fewer Americans than fearful reaction to them does.

Maybe the 1% are not the problem, but the defects in our financial and legal systems that allow the poor/rich divide to widen are.

Nah. Forget it. Crazy talk.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:24 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you under the impression that the UK Treasury is run by imberciles?

Looking at the UK's financial system, why yes, yes I do think it is run by imbeciles. Not that this really disagrees with your point about the straw man, of course.
posted by eriko at 9:25 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even my left wing friends think the public sector workers are being entitled and selfish, primarily because they have a 'perk' that struggling private sector people don't have.

This is a point that so clearly illustrates how damned effective corporations (and the right) have been over the decades. They've succeeded in stripping employees of the perqs and benefits their predecessors had enjoyed for ages and ages, and then sold them the idea that anyone who still had those perqs and benefits were somehow acting entitled and enjoyed "Cadillac" benefits. It's fucking divide-and-conquer.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:26 AM on November 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


AFAIK, some public pension funds often require unrealistic and frankly unachieveable returns on their investments (something like ~8%) to fully fund the promised payouts from the pensions. And when the returns fall short (as they almost certainly will given the unrealistic return expectations), it only spurs on the funds to take more risks, leading to even greater shortfalls and so on.

Actually, sort of the opposite? And by sort of, I mean exactly. Most pensions are underperforming because of ahistoric returns hovering in the 2-3%, whereas the historic average (at least in America, where this study was focused) is more like 10%. Assuming a low-end recovery to ~8% ROR (both your and the authors figure), public pension shortfalls will be virtually eliminated.

Previously
posted by Chipmazing at 9:28 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you under the impression that the UK Treasury is run by imberciles?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Osborne

posted by [citation needed] at 9:29 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


eriko: "Looking at the UK's financial system, why yes, yes I do think it is run by imbeciles."

You only need check out George Osbourne's twitter feed to see that.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2011


Also, I have a crazy idea about these public sector pension shortfalls. What if, instead of pension payouts being based on "unachievable" returns, otherwise well-managed pensions were eviscerated by toxic waste spewing timebombs being sold as AAA securities by firms who designed them to fail and bet against them? What if these same firms then got made whole by the taxpayer when it turned out they were on the wrong side of too many of those bets? What if all levels of government saw the tax base wither away because of cratering property values, stagnant GDP and an ever greater share of income going to bailed-out bankers who squirrel it away in tax havens? What if those same tax cheat bankers lent their bailout money right back to the government at a higher rate? What if those bankers now want to protect their investment from inflation by demanding that everyone else suffer?

No, that's just not realistic. If that was the case, a bloated financial sector would need to control the government and the press. Income inequality would be exploding and there would be massive civil unrest.
posted by [citation needed] at 9:53 AM on November 30, 2011 [20 favorites]


Here's a radical thought.

Maybe... the bogeyman isn't the problem.

Maybe Commies, who helped bring the 40-hr work week, mandatory overtime pay for overtime work, and an end to child labor, weren't all bad for the US political system, even while they were a viable part of it.

Maybe most of the feared "pinkos" of the 60s and 70s were more activist, than revolutionary.

Maybe the terrorists kill and otherwise harm far fewer Americans than fearful reaction to them does.

Maybe the 1% are not the problem, but the defects in our financial and legal systems that allow the poor/rich divide to widen are.

Nah. Forget it. Crazy talk.


Okay, so I read the first bit of this rolling my eyes and thinking This is Metafilter, no one here hates Commies, but you make an excellent point; it's easier to focus on people as bad guys than institutions and systems. For what it's worth, I think the focus on the 99% is the right one because it's about emphasizing the people who will be helped by change, rather than railing against the people that you'd like to hurt.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:53 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if, instead of pension payouts being based on "unachievable" returns, otherwise well-managed pensions were eviscerated by toxic waste spewing timebombs being sold as AAA securities by firms who designed them to fail and bet against them? What if these same firms then got made whole by the taxpayer when it turned out they were on the wrong side of too many of those bets? What if all levels of government saw the tax base wither away because of cratering property values, stagnant GDP and an ever greater share of income going to bailed-out bankers who squirrel it away in tax havens? What if those same tax cheat bankers lent their bailout money right back to the government at a higher rate? What if those bankers now want to protect their investment from inflation by demanding that everyone else suffer?



Quoted for Mother Fucking Truth, Y'all.


I might also add, "What if a variety of state and local governments deliberately underfunded their own contributions to these public pensions, in the interests of lowering taxes on their electorates in the short term, thereby securing their positions and their ability to pass legislation weakening labor rights and loosening financial regulations?"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:08 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


A friend of mine who works for the Home Office pointed me at this letter from the head of the FDA to the Times about coverage on the strikes. She described her union of senior civil servants going on strike was the equivalent of seeing a granny deck a mugger. It's the first time they've ever been on strike in their entire history, similar to the head teachers unions. The fact that you're seeing unions like this come out should underline just how under pressure these public servants are.
posted by invisible_al at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Firstly, every time the coalition say that one day without (a subsection of) public sector workers will damage the economy they undermine their previous argument that the public sector are worthless.

Ah, but the economic losses are caused by all those productive private sector workers having to stay at home and look after their kiddywinks, because their stroppy overpaid baby sitters went on strike. It's not that the public sector workers actually do anything useful really, they just let the private sector parents get to work and make all the money.

Yes, of course it's total bullshit but the government clearly think people will buy it. That we managed to take a day off this year for the Royal Wedding without utterly destroying the economy is what really shows it to be mendacious crap.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:13 AM on November 30, 2011


Ah, but the economic losses are caused by all those productive private sector workers having to stay at home and look after their kiddywinks, because their stroppy overpaid baby sitters went on strike. It's not that the public sector workers actually do anything useful really, they just let the private sector parents get to work and make all the money.

...and looking after kids, thus facilitating much greater total economic output isn't of 'worth' or value?
posted by Dysk at 10:24 AM on November 30, 2011


I know you are being sarcastic ArkhanJG but that is something you hear, and it literally makes no sense. If people can't get to a factory without a bus, then the busdriver is contributing value, also the fireman who puts out factory fires, the nurse who fixes the injured worker so they can go back to work. Our society is organic, and interdependent, which is why the Lib Dem/Tory strategy is so catastrophically bad.
posted by communicator at 10:31 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


One commentator on the radio this morning suggested the strike could push the country back into recession.

I honestly believe that that should be its deliberate, stated purpose. We, the mass of people, have no leverage over the actions of the political/economic elites at this point. They literally do not need more than a fraction of us to maintain their world of wealth and comfort. That's ultimately what's driving the global economic hopelessness that is leading to so much social unrest. The greatest share of human beings on the planet simply aren't necessary to modern civilization and have no meaningful part to play in it.

There used to be a capitalist class that owned the companies and they needed the labor of the working classes to run those companies. So you could make a meaningful living doing productive work, even if you were being ruthlessly exploited because of the unequal power of the owners. But efficiency increases through mechanization, and increasingly through software, have vastly reduced the number of people needed to make their system work. That's why we have so much "unnecessary" economic activity going on at this point. Vast swaths of the economy are devoted to producing goods, services, and entire economic constructs that nobody really wants or needs. Things like the shake weight, the commercials to convince you that you actually do need the shake weight, the Joint Tactical Strike Fighter, and the Transportation Security Administration. These things exist not because there is any need for them, but because they make it possible to keep money moving and enable participation in the economy by people who would otherwise be shut out of it.

The result of these long trends is that we really have no leverage over the rich anymore. There's no service we can deny them that they really need, no refusal to cooperate that will concern them because they don't need our cooperation. The only thing they ultimately need from us is for us to not kill them or destroy the things they own.

In short, the difference in power between us and them has become so extreme that our sole remaining means of projecting asymmetric power great enough to reach them is to deliberately plunge the economy, and society itself, into chaos, because when the tree is cut down they have so much farther to fall than we ever could.
posted by Naberius at 11:07 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


How the hell did George Osborne become Chancellor? It boggles the mind.

You presumably know the story about how Blair and Brown met over lunch at Granita and made their famous pact.

It's much the same with Osborne, he made a deal. Other party smelt strongly of sulphur. And is marginally less of a force for machiavellian evil in the world.
posted by reynir at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2011


...the only thing you have to lose is your chains.

I was more blown away today by the news of the coordinated central bank action than the UK union action. I probably shouldn't be surprised that the ECB are pushing austerity on the one hand, while writing a blank check to banks with the other.

I agree with the analogy Clay Shirky draws between the 150 years of chaos that came with the advent of the printing press and what is coming next, but he attributes it all to the internet.

Richard Wolff pretty clearly lays out in his talk 'Capitalism Hits The fan' how for 150 years, culminating in the 1970s, workers wages (in the US at least) rose, but since then stagnaged, the benefits of productivity improvements going to the owners instead of the workers, and the increased profits loaned back to the workers, with interest, further impoverish the workers. He attributes this to computers, globalization, and women entering the workforce (not that these thing in and of themselves are bad, but they have been the impetus for change).

To me we need to come up with an alternative for when capitalism eventually fails or its back to fascism.
posted by Gregamell at 11:41 AM on November 30, 2011


For what it's worth, I think the focus on the 99% is the right one because it's about emphasizing the people who will be helped by change, rather than railing against the people that you'd like to hurt.

Good point, Bulgaroktonos. "99%" specifically avoids naming the boogeyman... even if he/they are strongly implied.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:54 AM on November 30, 2011


Jeremy Clarkson weighs in. Somebody should probably tell him that he doesn't have to work for a living.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:16 PM on November 30, 2011


The worm is turning and dead Republicans are revolving in their graves.

About time.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:20 PM on November 30, 2011


Jeremy Clarkson weighs in. Somebody should probably tell him that he doesn't have to work for a living.

Somebody should probably tell him that his entire rise to fame, subsequent career, stonewashed elasticated-waist jeans, distressed leather jackets, and hours of fun driving cars around has been funded by tax-payers. In many ways, Jeremy Clarkson is a public sector worker.
posted by reynir at 1:45 PM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Somebody should probably tell him you would need public sector workers to do the shooting.
posted by IanMorr at 2:03 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Regarding the whole Thatcher thing: bear in mind that her first term was pretty limp, and she would not have been elected again were it not for the Falklands War making her look good; her subsequent success in breaking the miners probably owes more to the idiocy of Arthur Scargill than anything else; and the "economic miracle" was the result of the oil flowing and selling off social assets. The Conservatives can't pull it off a second time because the context is so different. We're looking at a decade of (mis)managed economic decline, nothing more.
posted by Jehan at 2:16 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Agreed Jehan, and as I recall the run-up to the 1979 election had Callaghan likely to be re-elected until the last minute swing; the subsequent lengthy rule of the Tory Party makes it look like it was all the working out of teleological forces, but could well have gone otherwise. The other snippet that always intrigues is that 'going cap in hand to the IMF' in 1976 (was it?) was actually unnecessary and the result of a Treasury error.
posted by Abiezer at 2:24 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the Lib Dems are pretty much finished as a party now, yeah?
posted by moorooka at 1:42 AM on December 1, 2011


So the Lib Dems are pretty much finished as a party now, yeah?

Why, that's very harsh. Their eventual 20 MPs can save money after the next election by sharing the one coach.
posted by jaduncan at 2:42 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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