Well, last night’s post on public-sector pensions certainly turned out to be well-timed. Today’s announcement by the BMA that doctors will take industrial action for the first time since 1975 in defence of their pensions has the news channels buzzing. And the fact that it’s doctors doing it has highlighted very clearly a favourite government tactic in the way that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (fighting hard to wrest the ‘weasel of the decade’ title from his seniors and from Michael Gove) and his henchmen (henchpersons?) have responded. And no doubt their mates in the right-wing media will do the same.
‘Divide and conquer’ is a long-known and highly-effective tactic, and this government has been playing it hard since it came to power. But because the industrial action in this case is by doctors – a relatively well-off demographic – they’ve been even more shameless than usual in how they’ve pushed this message since literally within minutes of the BMA’s announcement.
It highlights perfectly the huge importance, as a viewer/listener, of rational, critical thinking when we hear a government spokesperson. Pronouncements take the form of things like:
‘The public will not feel much sympathy for doctors, who even under the new scheme will still have a very generous pension’
‘Doctors have gold-plated pensions that it would cost someone on a private pension a million billion pounds to buy’ (ok, I’m exaggerating, but only slightly!)
‘We discussed this with doctors and told them it’s the best deal they’re going to get. But rather than negotiate when we’ve told them there’s no point in negotiating, they’re resorting to industrial action which shows they don’t put the best interests of their patients first.’
‘People the length & breadth of the country will say: that’s an excellent pension!’
‘This is the best deal on offer, and when compared to private pensions it’s extremely generous’
‘How dare these bleedin’ doctors complain at their lot when we’ve successfully impoverished the rest of you?!’
Ok, the last one isn’t something you’re going to hear on the news, but it’s actually the nearest to the truth. If you were to take the pronouncements of Lansley and co, and strip away the spin and dissembling, what you’d really hear is:
‘Look, we’ve managed to erode private pensions and benefits until they look like nothing compared to public-sector benefits that used to look shabby compared with the private sector. We got away with that – now, all you plebs who don’t work in the public sector, don’t you think you ought to resent these lucky public-sector buggers and side with us so we can pillage their pensions and benefits too?! Whatever it takes to generate that resentment, we’ve got a soundbite for it!‘
Of course, you’ll never hear a coalition politician put it that plainly. But it’s still true. And they’re only slightly more subtle about it when any part of the public sector tries to fight their plans to strip away benefits that the country used to be proud of – and still should be. The cherished phrase ‘gold-plated pensions’ has been used against every group of public workers that has dared not to just lie down and let the government do whatever it chooses – and it’s been so widely parrotted that it just becomes received wisdom for those who don’t think beyond the soundbite.
Without question, there is now disparity between the public and private sectors in terms of pensions and benefits. The conclusion of any right-minded person will be that the way to remedy that disparity is to force companies – who are sitting on hundreds of billions of pounds of cash that are doing nothing to help the economy – to go back to providing decent pensions, pay and benefits to the people who work for them.
The Tories, for ideological reasons, and because they’re either funded by the oligarchs who run Big Business or stand to benefit directly through their own shareholdings etc, are absolutely terrified that the Great British Public will wake up and demand that remedy. So they engage relentlessly and often shamelessly in the kind of ‘divide and rule’ propaganda described above.
There’s only one solution: don’t fall for it. Support your fellow-citizens in the public sector as they stand up for their rights against the people who want to rob them. Punish the robbers via the ballot-box. And if you work in the private sector, join a union and, when the time is right, stand up, take action and demand the restoration of what was stripped from you. You’ve been robbed – the solution is not to applaud or stand idle while someone else is robbed in front of you. Help them, and then they’ll be stronger to help you – and we can get rid of this robber-baron government and demand that their replacements take a radical stand instead of going with the flow.
(Update: for a very good article on why doctors feel so strongly about the plundering of their pension, see: www.elements-science.co.uk/2012/02/exclusive-bma-council-insider-discusses-pensions-dispute/)
It’s time – been time for a while. Don’t let the ‘elite’ lull you to sleep or get you looking elsewhere while they rob you blind. We’re not helpless to do anything about it – but it’s up to each one of us to do it.
Just a few of the ways you can start taking action immediately:
– Join the Labour Party, then join Labour Left (www.labourleft.co.uk/join/)
– Get informed: start to link up on Twitter with the various people and groups who are highlighting wrongs and co-ordinating action to put them right (@labourleft; @grahamemorris; @dreoinclarke; @marcuschown; @cpeedell; @bobellard1; @chrisbryantmp; @notoukcoalition; @ukcut; @nhs_supporters; @graciesamuels) – there are loads, but following these people will soon bring others to your notice)
– Tell your friends: when you hear someone parrotting the ‘gold-plated’ line or any other Tory disinformation and believing it, talk to them about it. Politely, but emphatically – and point them in the right direction to get informed for themselves.
– Support organisations that are helping people to resist: ’68 is too late’ (@68_is_too_late on Twitter), 38 degrees, NHS Campaign (nhscampaign.org) – and of course, the above-mentioned Labour Left
– If you live in a Tory, LibDem or marginal seat, find out whether the new National Health Action Party is going to stand a candidate near you. This party is being set up by doctors and other NHS workers to fight the coalition in key seats in parliamentary elections – taking care to do so where they won’t dilute already-strong anti-coalition votes. If you want to know more, follow @cpeedell, one of the party founders, who will be posting information on the new party as it gets up and running.
There are loads more ways – if you think of good ones, find out whether other people are already working on the same idea. If not, set it up and tell me about it!