Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news

Sally Hunt writes about her and her members’ perspective on the strikes.

Sally Hunt is the General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)

Next Wednesday, barring a last minute agreement, millions of public sector workers will go on strike in defence of their pensions.

Ministers should stop spinning and start negotiating if they want to avert the largest day of co-ordinated action in a generation. So far this week they have blamed everything but the weather on the wicked trade unions. If it starts raining though, expect to see Brendan Barber put in the frame for that too.

The real problem is that the current government simply does not understand trade unions and how they work.

One day they offered us a 15 minute strike “for free”, completely misjudging the anger there is among staff about the pension proposals.

The next, the prime minister – himself with a rather shaky electoral mandate – is lecturing us about whether 80 per cent plus strike votes are sufficient to call for strike action.

Yesterday, we were accused of destroying the economy – a job the government seems to be doing quite nicely on its own, thank you very much.

The problems our country face are too serious for this silly spin. Trade unions did not create the crisis. Nor did they invent the current, unjustified attacks on their pension schemes.

The arguments are well rehearsed but are worth repeating. Our pensions are not gold-plated. Our members are not responsible for the economic crisis. And what should be a shared goal across the political divide of a dignified retirement for all will not be helped by attacking best practice and celebrating the worst.

UCU members are far from mindless militants. They choose to work in education, despite the relatively low pay compared to the private sector, because it is their vocation. Strike action will always be, quite rightly, a last resort for them but after 12 months of “take it or leave it” what else should they do?

I, and others, have spent the last few weeks working for a negotiated settlement.

This week though has shown that negotiations are clearly a secondary priority for a government that prefers to do its talking on the news channel – failing to understand that every new PR stunt reduces the trust that public sector staff have still further.

Despite all this UCU will continue to work for a negotiated solution if one is possible. We are far from the “reds under the beds” portrayed by government. We are decent people; public servants who prefer to be at work supporting the next generation than being on the picket line.

Rather than continuing his search to find someone to blame for the impending strike on 30 November, the prime minister should stop, pause and look in the mirror.

See also:

More evidence Gideon’s savage attack on public sector pensions will hit women hardestNigel Stanley, November 21st 2011

New survey shows public more willing to take action over pensionsNeil Foster, November 21st 2011

Hutton repeats his big fat lie on public sector pensionsAlex Hern, November 4th 2011

Hutton should read his pensions report again before leaping to Cameron’s rescueMichael Burke, September 16th 2011

Osborne’s attacks on pensions are based on ideology, not necessityDave Prentis, July 25th 2011

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25 Responses to “Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news”

  1. Singing for a fairer future | Left Foot Forward

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  2. Anonymous

    I wouldn’t say that your members are completely absolved of all sin when it comes to the government’s fiscal crisis.

    1. Deficit. Spending > tax receipts. The public sector is responsible for the spending side.

    Our pensions are not gold-plated. Our members are not responsible for the economic crisis. And what should be a shared goal across the political divide of a dignified retirement for all will not be helped by attacking best practice and celebrating the worst.

    So why are you expecting me and others to bail you out? We’re not responsible for the financial crisis and yet we get hit by it. Why do you want more money from us, to insulate yourselves from its effects?

    The public wants money going on services. You are striking for money that won’t be going on services.

  3. chris star

    Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news..
    http://t.co/Eg3cZvRz
    #N30 #nov30

  4. Daniel Elton

    @GMBYoungMembers If govt spoke2unions more&journos less, we may not be facing strikes on #N30 on @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/imNwtqUm

  5. Daniel Elton

    @GMBPressOffice @GMB_union If govt spoke2unions more&journos less, we cud have avoided strikes #N30 on @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/imNwtqUm

  6. Daniel Elton

    @punite @unitetheunion If govt spoke2unions more&journos less, we cud have avoided strikes #N30 on @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/imNwtqUm

  7. Daniel Elton

    @unisontweets @unisonmv if govt spoke2unions more&journos less, we cud have avoided strikes #N30 on @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/imNwtqUm

  8. Daniel Elton

    @cwuyouth @NUJofficial if govt spoke2unions more&journos less, we cud have avoided strikes #N30 on @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/imNwtqUm

  9. Daniel Elton

    @SamTarry @RCTUNISON if govt spoke2unions more&journos less, we cud have avoided strikes #N30 on @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/imNwtqUm

  10. Daniel Elton

    @unisonroger @the_dbh if govt spoke2unions more&journos less, we cud have avoided strikes #N30 on @leftfootfwd: http://t.co/imNwtqUm

  11. Physiotherapy

    Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news: http://t.co/HuDOBT2S from @UCU’s Sally Hunt #N30

  12. Leeds University UCU

    Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news: http://t.co/HuDOBT2S from @UCU’s Sally Hunt #N30

  13. Blarg1987

    I do partially agree with you on your top sentence however I think what they are trying to say is that with CEO’s on over 100 times that of the lowest paid employee, who mainly made savings through reforming company pensions etc, which I believe is morally and ethically wrong.

    People no matter weather they are public or private should be focused on improving pay and conditions including pensions.

    Now your last point is flawed on the grounds that when pensions are paid out whwere are they spent? In the local economy and also alot of public sector scheems are invested in companies and UK assets.

    Your right, when it comes to the financial crisis, you shouldnt have to bail the people out who are responsible but somehow I can’t see the city paying for it so we all have to directley or indirectley.

  14. Look Left – Workers prepare to fight slasher Osborne | Left Foot Forward

    […] on Left Foot Forward, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) explained just how patronisingly out of touch the prime minister is: “Ministers should stop […]

  15. Mr. Sensible

    The government have made a very bad job of nigociation.

  16. Anonymous

    In the local economy and also alot of public sector scheems are invested in companies and UK assets.

    =============

    That the point. They aren’t. I’ll issue the challenge, how much in cash terms is owed to people for their state pension? I pretty much guarantee that you won’t be able to find the cash terms number. You might get a waffly percentage of GDP. A bit like going to a bank and adding your neighbour’s income in with your income to make the mortgage more affordable.

    ie. 2,400 bn for the state pension – no assets – no investment

    Civil service pension – 1,300 bn – no assets – no investments

    Even for those with assets, they are large black holes. A lack of investment.

    Your right, when it comes to the financial crisis, you shouldnt have to bail the people out who are responsible but somehow I can’t see the city paying for it so we all have to directley or indirectley.

    That’s why the banks should have been sent to the wall. Teaches people a lesson.

    Now, when it comes to the state and the civil service pensions.

    Tell me why my 2 year old son should pay tens of thousands of pounds (certainly) and probably hundreds of thousands to the civil servants and get no services in return?

    Why should I for example, have to fund a fraud? Or are you going to pay me compensation for being burgaled?

    ie. There is a desire for people in the public sector to ignore completely that they get all their money (including money they pay in tax), from people outside the public sector. They want quite outrageous sums.

    A nurse retiring on a salary of £34,200 after 40 years would receive a pension of £22,800. To obtain that level of income from a private sector pension at current annuity rates, a worker would need to amass a pension pot of £600,000, the Treasury said.

    According to pensions experts at Hargreaves Lansdown, a private sector worker on the same income who saved the average of 9 per cent of salary into a pension over a career might build a pension pot of £258,000.

    They estimated that to save £500,000 into a private pension, a worker would need to start by setting aside £600 a month from the age of 23. Someone who earns £40,000 and puts aside 9 per cent into a workplace pension is only saving £300 a month.

    So how about this as an alternative. The public sector workers get all their contributions, all their employer’s contributions, plus a reasonable growth rate, and that’s it. They have to join the real world.

    Going forward, they get to keep their contributions, and their pay gets upgraded with the employer’s contribution.

    Then everyone is on an equal footing. People can look and decide, are the public sector paid more or less.

  17. Blarg1987

    Interesting that you missed out the Teachers, NHS and local goverment pension funds which are shown to be growing and have money taken out of them by the treasury, and are in a healthy position.

    Why do you not advocate that goverment improves pension provision in the private sector a good start would be all employees of PLC’s have the same pensions scheme as the CEO of the company, that way pension provision is improved.

    If we keep going down the other road how long will it be before people see this as a green light to bring terms and conditions of employment further down and then people demanding the public sector follow?

    These things tend to be slippery slopes and it is sad that after taking 100 years to improve our pay and conditions as workers it is taking nearly 30 to try and undermine them.

  18. Newsbot9

    You are paying EVEN MORE for high rate tax relief on pensions. But you never bring THAT up, do you?

    Public pensions DO have a large contributory element, and you’re ignoring the fact that people pay NI for their state pension. That they’re not ring-fenced is a government matter, but they DO pay. Your myth about zero funding is just that.

    And when the skilled workers have left the public sector, you’ll use the fact that only the low-skilled will work for low wages as a reason to cut even more. And more and…

    Or, alternatively, pay the public sector the private sector’s pay rates for their experience and skills. Hint: The pensions won’t go down much, and the pay bill will soar. The government keeps on attacking pensions (the CPI linkage, for instance) in ways which make them a scam.

  19. Anonymous

    Well, you could remove it. You could also do something now to achieve the same result. Change the tax that pensioners pay to 75%.

    Tax relief is just tax deferral.

    Now how would civil servants be affected by the change?

    Ah yes, they don’t actually contribute to a fund, so there is no tax relief for them, so they are immune.

    Public pensions DO have a large contributory element, and you’re ignoring the fact that people pay NI for their state pension.

    3%. Isn’t that what they have been paying? So what if we refunded them their contributions, plus a return on the money. Would that be equitable and fair?

    I haven’t ignored the state pension. I’ve just pointed out the inconvinient truth that if someone on 26K a year (median wage), had put their cash in the FTSE, they would have had a pension of 21K a year, RPI linked, joint life. Instead they get 5K, CPI linked (its cheaper), and not fully joint life.

    Well, if the skilled leave, they make lots of money, pay lots of tax, and we are all better off.

    Still no numbers as to what is owed. Why is that? Ah yes, we can’t have the numbers out there because that makes it transparent.

    It’s all going Greek. The public sector will be hardest hit by the upcoming Greek Style collapse. Those with savings for their retirement (ideally not in a pension) will be better off. After all, with no assets, it depends on getting other people to pay for them.

    In Greece you see the foretaste of government debts. The population has decided to cut the government out. Black economy is 35% and rising. When the majority of the economy bypasses the government, its screwed.

    That’s the problem for the public sector. Their pensions are only as good as the ability of the private sector to pay for it, and the private sector being willing to pay for it. Otherwise, they have to rely on they fellow civil servants being able to use violence and threats to get their money.

  20. Sophia C Botha

    Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news: http://t.co/HuDOBT2S from @UCU’s Sally Hunt #N30

  21. Malcolm Evison

    RT @leftfootfwd: Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news http://t.co/eJfp8Z2A

  22. TheCreativeCrip

    RT @leftfootfwd: Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news http://t.co/eJfp8Z2A

  23. UCULeeds-art

    Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news: http://t.co/HuDOBT2S from @UCU’s Sally Hunt #N30

  24. Anna Johnstone

    Message to Cameron: Talk to us, not TV news: http://t.co/HuDOBT2S from @UCU’s Sally Hunt #N30

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