It’s that conference time of the year. The TUC (Trade Unions Congress) Conference started yesterday with a call to arms or call of intent raising the possibility of general and widespread industrial action over the coming months and into the New Year in protest against the spending cuts.
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I’m a member of UNISON in so much as I pay my membership dues regularly. I can’t say I’m anything near an active member. I have never gone out on strike before. I know there are various moral issues that can be taken but generally my reasons for not striking have been about the area that I work in and the thought that nothing would be achieved by the strikes.
This time my thinking is slightly different. I know cuts need to be made. I know that jobs need to go. But I also feel angry.
The Guardian report on the conference saying
on the platform at the Trades Union Congress annual meeting in Manchester, union leaders issued a flood of strike rhetoric, condemning the coalition’s plans to reduce public spending to cut the deficit rapidly and claiming it would lead to a “darker, more brutish” society.
It’s that ‘darker, more brutish’ society that I can see emerging. It’s the offensive and marginalising language that the government ministers are using. It’s the government engaging in a process of stigmatising the poor, the disabled, the sick.
Where is the ‘fairness’ that was promised? The government should remember is has a very very slim grip on electoral legitimacy. The Conservatives would be in a minority government without the Liberal Democrats and it is Liberal Democrat supporters who will be increasingly alienated by some of this talk.
Yesterday I was at a meeting with other social workers from around the borough. I was chatting to one of the managers from childrens’ services and we were talking about the impact the cuts have had in our respective teams. I gave the usual story of recruitment freezes and she said that while they were able to recruit into vacancies in childrens’ services, because it has a protected priority status, they were not able to recruit into any of the support services and jobs were being lost in those support services and potentially preventative services. While qualified social workers were safe in their jobs and being actively recruited into their teams, the quality of the service provided was affected acutely by the lack of support services.
The problem with the cuts is not that they are happening per se, but that they are happening in a haphazard and unplanned manner. We are told to cut budgets by a hefty percentage in a short period of time. No-one really seems to be too bothered where exactly the cuts come from as long as they are made and all preventative work is going out of the window as it can’t give ‘real’ results quickly.
I have to say though that I feel far more inclined to strike now, over this, and over this government’s attitude than at any time in the past. Of course, I would need to be aware of details and how provisions would function for those in the absence of front line workers but even that consideration is a fairly large sea-change for me, personally.
It isn’t just the cuts I am angry about and the way that they will be affecting the most vulnerable members of society, it is the arrogance of a government that refers to a ‘benefits lifestyle choice’ with no understanding of the poverty that exists in this country.
I know this was always going to be a difficult time to work in public services. I know I am fortunate that my own job is safe (at least, I think so) but it is about a wider political agenda and ideology that I find so unpleasant and reprehensive.
Maybe it’s a call to arms I would consider responding to.