It is a peculiar quirk of capitalist thinking that the individual ambition of workers is lauded and encouraged but the ambition of a group of workers to protect their position is one of the deadliest sins you can commit. Indeed, one of the major ironies of the proposals put forward by Hutton for public sector pension reform is that they penalise aspiration and achievement by ending the link of pensions to final salaries.
So it is that teachers have found themselves the target of a tirade of predictable abuse from the media today over their decision to strike. We can quite easily dismiss questioning of the mandate for action due to turnout from a government whose programme has never been put to the voters at the ballot box and which, when it has faced scrutiny like it did in May, has been overwhelmingly rejected.
It’s unsurprising that pensions are the flashpoint which is the product of malice aforethought on the part of the government as Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB pointed out to the Financial Times:
Tactically, it’s not the cleverest way to engineer a punch-up with the public sector unions by giving us all exactly the same problem at the same time”.
Strategically then this dispute is of huge importance not just immediately for the public servants directly effected by these changes but for the whole wider political climate. If the dispute were to be successful, it could well change the entire political climate and embolden public opinion which has, thus far, been passively aggressive hostile to the Coalition’s cuts. If the dispute falters though, it will have the reverse effect.
Specifically, the pensions issue is becoming a defining one in our culture — as central as wages and conditions were in the past. This is doubtless due to an ageing demographic and a growing insecurity about adequate provision entering old age. With incomes collapsing and unions far too weak to force them up this is one of the last major battlegrounds of significance left. So, a much wider issue is at stake than the immediate one of public sector pension reform – the whole tempo of struggle against the governments economic agenda will be decided by this wave of summer strikes; that alone means we must defend the teachers against the barrage of attacks they are about to face.