Tag Archives: unions

Carers – who will strike for them?

I am sitting here contemplating likely chaos on 30 November and thinking that its a shame that carers have no union. Carers have no pay, no recognition, and most of all no wonderful pension that they can drop all their responsibilities for and come out and strike about on Wednesday next. If carers could, and followed the example of the others who are striking, we could say our strike was for for a greater good, that we see no collective responsibility for the individuals we may damage in the process, and that the longterm advantages outweigh every other consideration.

But we can’t. We are carers because we love those we care for – and thus are sitting ducks.

I’m thinking – as I listen to good, solid, left-wing speeches about ” supporting the workers” – that its about time the left wing drags itself into the 21st century. It needs to recognise that nowadays “the worker” is the lucky one – sympathy and support should be focused on the plight of those who the state has left unsupported and unable to work.

(And yes – New Labour, Old Labour, wet and dry Tories – not one of you has given a monkeys for the plight of this large but clearly unimportant group. For all the care you have had for carers they might as well have been a rural bus route!)

The public sector worker works long hours, unrecognised, for the good of others? Very true, some do. Others earn very large salaries on very specious grounds and do very little in return, explaining, rather like bankers, that they earn a market rate and if you don’t pay it, the best candidates will go elsewhere. (I am thinking here of certain past Council Chief Executives). The public sector worker earns less than the market wage to support society out of a sense of duty? Maybe. Some are health workers and emergency service workers and other ‘frontline staff.’ . Others are about as near the front line as a WW1 general – and earn many times more than the troops in their trenches – but the unions represent both impartially.

Carers work much longer, much less recognised hours than nurse, or teacher or chief executive. Do carers get holiday pay? Hell, they don’t even get pay – and are often stigmatised by the Uncaring Press as shirkers or work-shy, to boot. Carers don’t get sickness pay or pension contributions. They are workers that the state has never bothered to support, or unions to represent or fight for. No one has cared to join forces and strike to give them ANY alleviation or compensation for all those long long hours of ungrudging – but uncosted, unwaged, unpensioned and unrecognised – work they do to save the public purse. Labour and Conservative governments are closer than they recognise.

Ok, I must declare a personal interest. As many know , I an a 24/7 carer of a young person with a disabling and highly dangerous condition which needs constant supervision and specialist care. Until very recently I was also a lone parent (of 3) – and as such I had to fit my earnings, and family life in general, around this care. For seven whole years I had no help from the local authority or government because of a system so sloppy, un-joined, un-focussed  and uncaring that nobody felt a need to respond to my enquiries, tell me of entitlements,  or fight on my behalf.

This is one of the reasons I entered local politics. Nobody should be in the position I was in.

I’m not whining. We all survived and no-one was (much) the worse for it so far, but one of the things that suffered very much indeed was my career and with it my chances of a reasonable pension to support me after all the years of working flat out.  It is impossible to be a full-time carer and full-time worker – and it is equally impossible to pay for the level of care needed unless you earn a banker’s – or a Chief Executive’s – wage. (For those who are interested, I solved the problem by writing. If  you make that deadline online, nobody knows you filed your copy from beside a hospital bed).

But why are we carers not recognised by unions? Why haven’t the unions fought, walked out, picketed on our behalf? Because carers are not ‘workers’? In supporting their well-paid workers in this selfish strike, the unions are victimising both the carer and the cared for with what seems (from the outside) an arrogant lack of care of those who truly need it – and an astonishing insouciance about the consequences of their actions.

My child has waited 6 months for a specialist NHS appointment in London, on November 30th. I am hoping – praying – there will be sufficient goodhearted ‘scabs’ for her to be seen, because otherwise there’s another six month wait. Assuming we can manage to travel to a central London Hospital on that day. No thanks to the unions.

In a debate on twitter today I was told that if the “race to the bottom” on pay and pensions is allowed to go ahead, those who have no choice because they are ill will look back on these days and ask us why we didn’t fight harder

I pointed out that if my child died because the strikers were looking to the future rather than caring for her present, she will never be able to look back at all. And I will look back on each and every striker with such rage, you would find it hard to believe.

Whereupon a – I am sure -personally nice and caring person tweeted the weaselly evasion to end all weaselly evasions:” taking a step back how can an individual withdrawing their labour in say, border agency be held responsible for what may happen to your daughter? “

Come on. A collective intention to strike with the intention of exerting collective pressure to gain collective benefits MUST be accompanied by collective responsibility for the harm you do.

And whether you keep those pensions (which so much more generous than outside the public sector), or whether you too end up in no better position than the legion of unionised workers who accepted major changes to pensions under the last government without a SQUEAK out of you, remember, please the pensionless carers and those they care for.

They have never received any of your benefits -but they will suffer from your industrial action

Smoke, mirrors and ‘average’ pay

On Radio 4s You and Yours programme today*  there was an argument between pro- and anti-union speakers as to whether the average salary for a full-time UK public sector worker was £22,000 (as the ‘pro’ asserted), or higher (as the ‘anti’ suggested).   The ‘anti’ spokesman declared that the £22000 average included  part-time workers – which the ‘pro’ spokesman absolutely denied.

This statement can be easily checked, so I checked it.

It  turned out that the pro-union speaker was not telling the truth.   Google  confirmed that the average fulltime UK public sector salary was £28,808 last year – £3000 more than the private sector counterpart ( this, according to the ONS)

Such wilful disinformation does no good at all to the argument.

Now,  as a county councillor, I don’t know whether I count as a public sector worker or not. Certainly no public sector union chooses to represent  me and my  low-paid work.  (Work paid for by an ‘allowance’ which puts me and my family below the official poverty line,  allows me a ‘career average’ (hah!) contributory pension that doesn’t kick in until I am 70 and has no problem with the degree to which  my working hours exceed the European Working Time Directive.  Unison – represent me, why don’t you!)   However, I am temperamentally much much more on the side of a union, trying to represent others and address low wages, than on the side of  “the bosses”,  stereotyped as looking after number one.

But we all need to recognise that the split between private and public  sector is no longer the argument of entitlement versus exploitation, or of equality versus inequity which too many on the left are old-fashioned enough to parrot, and which too many on the right are old-fashioned enough to agree with.  One side bangs on about the ‘average working godger’ selflessly working for less than they would get in the private sector, the other side bleats about the politics of envy.

Neither side is telling anything like the whole truth. Which is that both sides are supporting a have and have-not system that neither wants to acknowledge in its entirety.

In the private sector there all too many people that we need not envy. Plenty of private sector workers earn poor salaries with deeply unenviable terms and conditions. Also, let us never forget that many people in the private sector are doing jobs which were once public sector until both left- and right-wing governments decided to privatise them. For reasons of economy.

On the other side, unions are disingenuous when it comes to the nature of the ‘working godgers’  they represent.  In making a case for pensions they mention frontline staff : teachers, nurses,  firefighters.  They do not mention the Civil Service mandarins, the  senior council executives, the senior doctors, educators and officials who they also represent and whose eye-watering salaries – and unduly generous pensions – are also included in these negotiations (and hidden away in these ‘averages’). Yet the extraordinarily generous pay and conditions  at the top  of unionised sectors may well be the very reason why the average pay for a public sector worker is higher than their private counterpart.

I would suggest both private and public sectors have an elephant in the room. The private sector elephant is the number of very badly-paid workers who support the enviable few; the public sector elephant is the large and unacknowledged number of unduly well-paid workers, hiding behind the union concern for the have-nots.  It doesn’t make either system any fairer, though, does it? Each is an aspect of ‘jobs for the boys.’

In the case I mentioned above, both protagonists seemed to be quite charmlessly and ruthlessly  picking up on the notion of ‘average’ to support their side of an argument, without any care (or interest) in the truth that lay behind. Statistics were being used as weapons rather than as tools for forensic investigation.  What use is that to anyone?

Unless the meaningless drivel  and point-scoring about ‘average earnings’  can be done away with across the board, and unless we can look instead at the differential between the top and bottom salaries in each sector, we will never get rid of the horrible inequity which has for many years existed  in this country – where an administrative assistant works for £14000 a year – with anxieties about economic survival in old age – to support a chief executive ‘making do’ with a salary of £250,000 and a massive pension pot .

This continues to occur in unionised and non-unionised situations alike.

* 18-10-2011 ‘Do Strikes Work?’