Saturday, November 12, 2011

Maude - famous for fifteen minutes?

The Government are clearly rattled by the coming pensions strike - leading to the daft suggestion that we can have a fifteen minute strike with no loss of pay.

Did Francis Maude consult the employers on this proposal? Of course not, it isn't a serious proposition but a shot in a propaganda war.

Today's Financial Times sees Francis Maude playing every card he can think of, building on last week's "non-offer" from Danny Alexander, although it's left to an anonymous Whitehall source in the Guardian to offer the "carrot" (that they may give ground on the "Fair Deal") whilst Maude wields the "stick" of possible further anti-union legislation.

The "carrot" is, of course, no such thing. It's more the possible withdrawal of an "anti-carrot," in that the Government may not withdraw what little protection we have for pensions when workers face privatisation.

In what sense is it "giving ground to leave things as they are?

It's a bit like Alexander's "offer" on accrual rates in that sense. He kindly offers us (after 2015) the sixtieths accrual rates we already have (saving himself money by the switch to career averages).

The Government's PR strategy is clearly to talk up what Maude calls their "big and generous" offer, obfuscating and hoping that the inherent complexity of some of the issues in dispute will mean that commentators and the public accept their version (as a very poor Guardian Leader did early in the week).

Maude repeats today the lie that the Coalition is offering protection to those approaching retirement age. They aren't. They are offering negotiators the opportunity to make those further from retirement pay more in order to provide that protection. (If the unions engage with this approach we risk being seen to have betrayed younger workers, who are already less likely to be trade unionists - or, indeed, members of the pension scheme.)

This crude "divide and rule" tactic to set young against old is mirrored in Maude's public attempt to drive a wedge between Dave Prentis ("a very formidable, skilled, experienced negotiator") and Mark Serwotka ("highly politically motivated").

If he thinks such transparent tactics will persuade UNISON to switch from a one-day strike to a token fifteen minute walkout, I predict he will be disappointed. Maude, for all his praise of Prentis, is trying to reach past our General Secretary to weaker and more timid souls who want to avoid confrontation.

Confrontation is however inevitable unless the Coalition withdraw their attacks upon us. The very public game of "sticks and carrots" and "divide and rule" is a play to the gallery of public opinion, hoping to shake the confidence of our leaders and confuse and intimidate our members.

In response, we need our leaders to be both "formidable, skilled and experienced" and "highly politically motivated". It is a very "political" - and laudable - motivation to want to defend public services and public servants!

We should be moved least of all by threats of anti-union laws, the withdrawal of offers or the end of the Fair Deal.

Unless we stop the Coalition in their tracks then all of these things will inexorably come to pass as the cuts collapse the economy, drive up the deficit and lead to further attacks on workers' living standards.

Anything the lying Coalition say is safe (such as the risible suggestion that they won't touch our pensions again for 25 years) is as secure as last year's decision to uprate benefits each April in line with the previous September's CPI, which is already being revisited to shave still more off the living standards of the poor and most vulnerable.

We have one chance - and it comes not only on November 30 but also in the vital and urgent debate about further early all-out national action.

Which will need to be for considerably more than 15 minutes!

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