Libraries, schools and government buildings closed their doors today as thousands of Public Sector workers took a day of strike action against government cuts to jobs, pensions and services. The day after the coalition's plan for economic growth was demonstrated to be instead a blueprint for shrinkage, with the gap between rich and poor growing exponentially, 1500 Lancastrians took to the streets in the biggest march and rally yet seen in the city's history. Over 30 unions nationally took part in the strike action.
The rally was scheduled to end in Market Square - but it quickly became obvious that the march was simply too huge to fit through the shopping centre and instead it had to rally for speeches in Dalton Square. It was extraordinarily noisy with vuvuzuelas and powered horns, whistles, drummers literally jumping the entire route, a hectic brass section and a mighty soundsystem. A sensitively-delivered trumpet solo of 'We shall overcome', deserves a special mention.
From the closed Town Hall entrance overlooking the square, speakers accused the coalition government of trying to turn private sector workers against public sector workers. They said that because the government had let private sector pensions be stolen, it was expecting its victims to support theft from the public sector workers too. Because you've been robbed, they told the rally, that doesn't make you want to stick up for the robbers' right to steal from others too.
They believed that if the public sector would fight for pensions rights for all, then the private sector workers would be empowered. Only a minority of workers in the private sector have any representatives to fight for their rights and protect them from personal victimisation if they should seriously object to how they are treated. As a result, millions have no plan they can trust for security beyond retirement and are quite knowingly facing dependency on welfare benefits and public services to meet their future needs. It is their only safety net in the retirement and old age we all hope to thrive in.
Speakers and leaflets detailed how public sector pension schemes have been managed sustainably, unlike the private schemes that were and are systematically raided by employers and shareholders, and employee contribution levels have been high. Thousands of public sector workers on low pay now face increased contributions, not to make their pension funds sustainable, but to feed the black hole of the government's economic policy. In practice this has meant that wherever the Con-Dem coalition government finds funds that can't be protected from them, they will drain them. At the same time they shrink from regulating the capital of the rich as they hound us from one 'crisis' to the next.
Legally, an industrial action must be about an employment issue, and the issue named and argued in this case is that of Pensions Justice, as many banners declared. But most of the people on the march saw pensions as just the tip of an iceberg of unfairness in austerity measures piled up against the most vulnerable in society. UK unemployment numbers are creeping towards 3 million, with a generation of young talent and energy being thrown onto the scrapheap to fester unvalued and undeveloped towards an inconceivably insecure future. Whilst David Cameron waxes plump and sleek and glib, services to the elderly have long passed crisis point, with fresh scandals and tragedies being reported daily.
Security in old age after a lifetime of contributing to your community and your society is a fundamental part of the social compact by which we all tolerate living and working together, as is care when we are sick, food, shelter and protection from vilainy. Capitalism, as practised today, is driving this social compact headlong into a brick wall. The richest show no intention of living and working with us. They have become remote and adversarial, superficially polarising into the charitable and the predatory.
A real economy is built on the value of its trade goods and skills. A healthily functioning society is built on its capacity to offer both challenge and security to its members while they create its wealth. Our society seems only to offer protection to its financial middlemen, each financial institution with its finger on the scales tipping the wealth away from its creators. Each with its private interests and its lobbyists embedded in our government. Each contributing to a global financial smokescreen of credit and debt that overthrows elected governments for government by bankers and policy made in boardrooms.
The bottom tenth of earners saw their pay creep up just 0.1% between 2010 and 2011 while the top tenth saw their pay grow 18 times faster.
Contrary to what you might read in the Murdoch press or see on daytime TV, the UK is the world's 6th leading manufacturer. We work harder than anywhere else in Europe, for long hours, with tough conditions. We have so much productivity and enterprise people come from all over the world to participate in it. Even our pensioners are active and busy running our charities, trusts and voluntary services, a crucial role in keeping our society vital, considerate and safe. The UK economy would be more than sustainable if taxation was applied as the spirit of the law requires. Instead giant corporations route their revenue offshore, and the rich illegally negotiate miniscule tax levels, awarding themselves millions in bonuses, selling off national assets at discount rates to each other and 'bail' each other out with ordinary people's money.
This article is written in balance to the regular attacks in national media on:
disabled adults, children and elderly,
public sector workers,
trades union members and their representatives,
people who would like to become trades union members or their representatives,
people approaching retirement,
people who don't want to work for no pay,
middle class people,
single people living alone,
single people living communally,
people who pay rent,
people who care for people who can't survive alone,
people who work in emergency services,
people who didn't go to public school,
people who don't have lobbyists,
people who pay rates,
people who claim benefits,
people with pension plans,
people without pension plans,
people who use the NHS,
people who work for the NHS,
people who don't have time to be forever shopping around and reading small print,
people who try to stick up for themselves,
people who can't stick up for themselves,
people who live in the North of England and
people who don't see building new roads as the answer to every question.
This is a vast constituency. One might call it the 99%.
Virtual-Lancaster has received a late report that there are tents in Dalton Square and an Occupy Lancaster action is now in operation. Your pictures are welcome.
Find out more at Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts on facebook.