We’ve just had the biggest public strike in Britain in years. I was expecting some intelligent debate about it in the media but no, what everyone wants to talk about are the comments from that reliable rent-a-gob, Jeremy Clarkson.
Jeremy, to anyone who doesn’t yet know, suggested that all strikers should be shot in front of their own families. It was an opinion made in jest, spur of the moment and very typical Clarkson, tongue in cheek, but has provided plenty of fodder for the tabloid press and radio phone-ins today.
I’ve run many a discussion show over the years and am fully aware that it is important to book someone who you are secretly hoping will be terribly opinionated and indiscreet. There is indeed a certain cynicism that creeps in when you’ve been doing the job for a while where it is tempting to deliver the most entertaining speaker to the audience rather than the argument. Jeremy is a dream guest in that respect and I’m sure part of the reason that he was booked on The One Show last night was because they knew he would say something outrageous about the strike.
Having the words come from the mouth of someone earning a telephone number salary just adds to the controversy.
If public sector workers have a good argument to make, it’s about time they made it clear. The Mail was definitely out to discredit public sector workers as it sent journalists and photographers to shopping malls yesterday to interview strikers. Bad publicity all round but few would be concerned about how they spent their time on strike if it seemed like there was a good case.
It seems to me that public sector workers are becoming demonised for daring to strike.
There is real anger about the cutbacks we are all facing but I’m not sure many people want to live in a divided society of them and us. Those of us in the private sector have struggled with employment and pay rates since 2008 and have learnt that we need to be more adaptable. While we are arguing about public sector versus private sector pay, nothing has changed at the top of society. There is still a huge disparity between the income of the super-rich and the rest of us. The banking crisis hasn’t changed this.
Unless public sector workers present a better case for their industrial action, the politics of envy will take over and the government won’t have any ‘wiggle room’ to offer a compromise.
I had a text this week from one of my children‘s schools – it’s going to be closed for a day next week due to industrial action.
Trying hard to be relaxed about next week's industrial action....
So as a self-employed worker, I cannot work that day because my child will be at home on a school day. As it happens, I was planning to have that day for boring stuff like house work any way. Now I’ll have a little helper.
But I still felt put out, inconvenienced, cross.
But it made me reflect on the day of action next week that seems increasingly likely to go ahead. I’m feeling very torn over it, to be honest.
I absolutely defend the right to protest. It’s part of what makes us a democracy and I do always find it very hard to cross a picket line – in fact I don’t think I’ve ever done so.
I’ve also been on strike myself, as a journalist, back in the early 1990s in Bath.
It was a very unpleasant experience – we were abused verbally and spat at more than once. It reminded me of my grandfather who often talked about taking part in the 1926 General Strike and being spat on as he, and others, marched down the Wellsway in Bath. I didn’t believe him. Now I know he was telling the truth.
In the 1990s, we felt strongly about newspapers introducing personal contracts for each individual journalist and abandoning the structured system of levels where you moved up the pay scale gradually. We won a short-term concession but over the subsequent years the personal contract system was introduced, by the back door.
How do I feel now 20 years later. The truth is, very different.
Striking over less generous pension settlements is very hard to swallow when you’ve worked most of your life in the private sector and you know that your pension income will be very low.
Many people in the public sector will say, I know, that they’ve paid a high amount into a pension for many years. So have I some of the time – when I’ve earned enough. But I could not hope to have the kind of pension that many public service workers will have even if these proposed changes come in.
There will also be the argument that if you work in the public sector you earn less than in the private sector. Really? Possibly in some sectors but not in the media. I’ve worked in both sectors for periods of time and I’ve always been paid more in the public sector.
So I still feel torn by it all. I can’t quite bring myself to condemn the strikes because I know so many good people who work in the public sector and who do a fantastic job for others. But I also know people who frankly would struggle in a more competitive environment.
What I do know is this – look to Greece and learn. Cuts have limits. People will take to the streets and will reject austerity measures eventually, no matter what the political or economic argument. The ordinary man will, if pushed hard enough, take action and say enough is enough. Do we want that to come here?
As a journalist, a working person, a human being I’m watching and wondering….