The Labour government tried to tear up civil servants’ redundancy pay only to have it declared unlawful by the High Court. Now the Con-Dem government have said they are prepared to change the law to demolish the redundancy scheme.
Their success if not inevitable if public sector workers take united action to defend their rights, and defend the welfare state.
The Con-Dem Cabinet, a majority of whom are millionaires, have decided that to help plug the deficit, created by the bankers, public sector workers will have to suffer.
The latest announcement is that they will seek to change the law to tear up the redundancy payment agreement that civil servants have.
There is nothing ‘generous’ about the redundancy package. It came in under the Thatcher government - not renowned for their generosity towards workers - in recognition of the low pay that civil servants get, especially in comparison with similar jobs in the private sector.
Now the government wants to tear that up, but there is to be no improvement in civil service pay to make up for it - on the contrary, civil servants are now subject to a pay freeze.
There is a second, very important reason why the government must not be allowed to scrap the compensation scheme. Scrapping the scheme would mean they can make civil servants redundant on the cheap. Already the (wonderfully ill-named) Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting the loss of 600,000 public sector jobs.
Scrapping jobs in the very areas that are most needed in an economic crisis - Jobcentres to help the unemployed, tax offices to collect the tax - will not help the economy. Throwing tax-paying civil servants out of work and onto benefits will not help raise revenue for the government.
Behind the rhetoric of national unity lies a plan which will protect only the very wealthy. Ever since they bartered their way into Downing Street, Clegg and Cameron have been warning that the public sector must make sacrifices to help the economy.
But where have been the daily broadcasts exposing the £120bn in uncollected tax? A serious attempt to enforce the payment of this huge sum would create new jobs (that many people might actually enjoy) and seriously help the economy. Happily for the rich, this would not even constitute a sacrifice since this is money they already owe.
Welfare: welcome to the market
Private companies now see welfare as their new market. Claimants of Employment Support Allowance (the old Incapacity Benefit) and Jobseekers Allowance will soon be placed under the ‘Work Programme’ which will be delivered by contractors.
This is as dangerous as privatising schools and hospitals. It puts our welfare system into the hands of businesses whose primary measure of success is how much profit they make. This means that the private companies, the corporate risk-takers, the speculators and the bankers will now get rich out of the crisis they created.
It will mean that the welfare services provided are not accountable to MPs, or the government. They will be accountable only to a profit margin.
It means the utter destruction of the public service as we know it and it will ruin the lives of the workers in public services and the people who use them. Campaigning to save the compensation scheme can be the start of a fight to stop this from happening.
The compensation scheme was defended by the High Court only weeks ago, but this did not intimidate the Con-Dem government. It should be easy for them to change the law when they and the Labour Party all want to see the compensation scheme torn up.
We have to send a message to the Con-Dem government that, however they re-write the law, the cost of attacking the contractual rights of public sector workers would be too high. The government wants to play-off different groups of workers against each other - this group gets a better pension, this group has got too high a salary etc - but in reality we are all facing the same attacks.
The government may be vicious but it is also weak. It did not get elected on a wave of popular enthusiasm for cuts. If we can unite together with others facing similar attacks we can expose this government’s weakness and stop the attacks. The day of strike action by workers in different unions across the public sector to stop pay cuts in April 2008 can serve as a useful example of how that unity and strength could start to be achieved.
Thatcher’s government was brought down in 1989 by the wave of massive anger against the Poll Tax, a tax which hit the poor worst of all. Now a weaker government is trying to enforce a far greater wave of attacks which will again hit the poorest in our society the worst. Just as many people in the 1980s refused to pay the Poll Tax we need to refuse to pay for their crisis now.
Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. Her book, ‘Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire‘ was published by Pluto Press last year.
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