Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 2 December 2011

Divide and Conquer

Unison. Unite. I'm part of the Union. One out, all out. United we stand.

Once upon a time, there was a point to all this. Combination - acting as a united group to withdraw labour - allowed poorly-educated and exploited 19th century factory workers to negotiate fair pay and conditions by hitting the mill owners where it hurt.

But what did this week's strikers achieve, beyond illustrating exactly how little difference the withdrawal of their labour would make to the country? Well, I suppose they can congratulate themselves on a mass demonstration of support - at least by those who weren't spending the day Christmas shopping.

Certainly the BBC was happy to carry repeated interviews with staff who had never considered strike action before, and who were now being provoked into it by the actions of the coalition; the subliminal message was clear; these are decent, honest workers forced into an uncharacteristic joint rebellion.

But the united facade covers a world of differences. Take for example the staff I have been dealing with recently at a major hospital. One is an administrative officer; last time I saw her, she arrived half an hour late (wiping chocolate crumbs off her face), filled in the wrong form and insisted on telling me all about the birthday party she was planning for her child.

In the same building, in a secure dementia ward, I met a male nurse who works tirelessly with his confused and sometimes violent patients; breaks are few and far-between, but he appears to maintain a calm and reassuring presence throughout, however difficult or unpleasant his tasks.

The work these two people do has very little in common; the desk-bound administrator will probably be able to keep doing her job (or, more accurately, occupying her desk while surfing the net and eating biscuits) to a greater age than the nurse could meet the demands of his, and thus retire on a far larger pension.

Meanwhile, those head teachers who closed their schools have salaries that are, in some cases, double those of the classroom teachers they led out - with accordingly higher pensions. An average salary-based scheme will hit them hardest, since senior management entails a massive salary hike in most areas.

Those striking Victorian mill-workers, by and large, were doing the same kind of work and stood to lose or gain together. By contrast, some of those marchers last Wednesday (not to mention the thousands of public sector staff who went to work as usual) have far more to lose than others, and some are already putting in their all while others idle along.

So here's a thought; why not allow certain public sector workers to keep their current pension rights because they do jobs too difficult, unpleasant or stressful for the majority of workers to tackle and because they are likely to burn out earlier? These people are generally among the lower-paid in any case.

That takes care of the front-line staff who, according to Unison general secretary Dave Prentis, 'care for the sick, the vulnerable, the elderly. They wipe bottoms, noses, they help children to learn, and empty bins.'

Meanwhile, office staff, managers and administrators adopt the new proposals and save the state a fortune.

Of course, it would never happen; the unions wouldn't hear of it.

3 comments:

  1. "Of course, it would never happen; the unions wouldn't hear of it."

    They aren't happy about the move towards regional pay either. It's not fair, you see...

    ReplyDelete
  2. They won't be able to do much anyway if they've all been taken out and shot.

    ReplyDelete
  3. XX One is an administrative officer; last time I saw her, she arrived half an hour late (wiping chocolate crumbs off her face), filled in the wrong form and insisted on telling me all about the birthday party she was planning for her child.

    In the same building, in a secure dementia ward. XX

    Sure she was an administrative officer and not someone who had wandered out of the secure ward?

    Then....how would you ever tell the difference?

    ReplyDelete