Last week, the Daily Mail trailed plans by George Osborne to introduce ‘tough new strike laws to prevent militant unions holding Britain to ransom’.
Osborne – supposedly ‘outraged’ by plans by border guards in the PCS union to strike on 26 July as the Olympics begin – wants to push through legislation to ban strikes unless a minimum turnout of 40%, or possibly even 50%, of union membership participates in a strike ballot.
Osborne described the planned industrial action as ‘shameful and pretty cynical’, which is about as classic a case of the pot calling the kettle black as you could wish for (or not wish for!). For the Tories to talk about unions ‘holding Britain to ransom’ is rankest hypocrisy in so many ways that I’m almost at a loss where to begin. But I’ll do my best nonetheless:
Sources say that Osborne & Cameron are ‘determined to press ahead with reforms following a wave of public sector strikes over spending cuts, pay and pensions‘, which they portray as holding Britain to ransom and damaging the country. The reality is the complete opposite. The strikes are an attempt to resist the damage to Britain that is being done by the most cynical and corrupt government since Thatcher – while the Tories have shown categorically that they won’t hesitate to use blackmail and coercion, and that they couldn’t give two hoots for harm and inconvenience to the British people, when it suits their purposes. I’ve written at length about the damage to the NHS, public services, the disabled, vulnerable and disadvantaged, and about the insanity & hypocrisy of cutting public spending while enriching the wealthy, elsewhere in this blog, so I won’t include those here, but will focus rather on ways in which the government says one thing and does the opposite, or condemns something while acting in ways that are just as bad or far worse.
Let’s look at some examples:
Doctors’ ‘strike’ vs Jubilee
During the recent doctors’ industrial action, the government and its media supporters didn’t hesitate to characterise doctors as greedy and ungrateful, and to condemn the 1-day limited action as showing that doctors don’t have the best interests of patients at heart, caring much more for their own financial benefit.
Doctors ensured that emergency cover would be provided, that disruption to patients would be minimised, and limited their action to a single day. The government was loud in its condemnation, milking the PR potential to the absolute maximum to generate public disapproval. Yet only days later, the extended bank holiday weekend imposed a far longer period during which only emergency care would be available and yet government ministers joined in the applause and the fawning approval. Whatever your opinion of the royal family and the diamond jubilee, it’s very evident that the government was only interested in how it could use the industrial action for its own propaganda purposes, and not at all for the welfare of the ill. After all, if you have a real concern for the sick and disabled, you don’t starve and break up the NHS or force people through skewed and humiliating assessments designed to force them off benefits and into work they’re not fit for, do you?
The same tactic has been used to coerce nurses, teachers and other public workers into surrendering to the theft of their pay and pensions. If you want to read more on the matter, please take a look here, here and here.
Fuel strikes vs unnecessary panic
When tanker drivers threatened industrial action earlier this year, the government condemned the predicted disruption caused by rolling go-slows and fuel shortages. But infamously, Cabinet Secretary Frances Maude started a panic about a strike that never happened, advising members of the public to stock up on fuel in their garages (the assumption that everyone has a garage speaks volumes about the Tory worldview!). This caused massive disruption and at least one serious injury as a woman caught fire while attempting to store fuel. The government does not care about disruption and inconvenience in the lives of ordinary people, only about how it can use the story to help achieve what it wants to do.
London Transport strikes vs the Olympics
When London bus and underground drivers threatened to strike, the government and its agents were quick to condemn the plan as greedy, selfish and, of course, holding London to ransom. Yet in the build-up to the Olympics the government has not hesitated to cause massive disruption to traffic, while large parts of London will more or less be shut down for any travel that isn’t related to the Olympics.
At the same time, plans are underway for a London Grand Prix, using the streets as a race track just like in Monaco, which will also paralyse large parts of the city for a weekend per year. Clearly, putting everyone to inconvenience is only a bad thing if it’s a ordinary doing it to defend themselves.
Border chaos vs border chaos!
In the last few months, reports have abounded of chaos at Heathrow passport control. Home Secretary Theresa May has come under attack for failing to do anything effective to reduce massive waiting times for ordinary people coming through border control. However, she repeatedly ‘reassured’ everyone that measures would be in place to correct the situation in time for the Olympics – as if that was any consolation to anyone waiting hours for a passport check after a long-haul flight outside the Olympic period.
Osborne and May are loudly condemning the planned one-day strike as ‘holding the country to ransom’, but it’s very, very plain that they and their colleagues couldn’t care less about the country’s convenience. They care about their reputation for being able to host a major sporting even and for the smooth money-making operations of its corporate sponsors.
Our blackmail good, YOUR
protest blackmail bad!
The government loves to make mileage out of the idea that strikers are blackmailing the country or holding it to ransom. Understandably so – it’s an easy way to score cheap propaganda points.
But as I wrote not long ago, the government is perfectly happy to resort to blackmail and coercion for its own purposes. In sanctioning the South-West Pay Terms & Conditions Consortium (they call it a consortium but it quacks exactly like a cartel!), the government is approving not just public inconvenience but a set of actions that would, in other circumstances, be considered criminal and worthy of a prison sentence. If you want more detail about that, please take a look at that post.
Low turnout – ok for us, but not for you
The government has condemned the planned border strike on the grounds that only 20% of PCS members voted in the strike ballot. Although 57% of those who voted were in favour of the action, Osborne claims the low turnout means that there is no mandate for the strike – and that future strikes, under his new legislation, would not be allowed unless a minimum turnout is achieved and a majority of that turnout votes in favour.
Yet in the 2010 general election, while voting turnout across the UK was 65.1% only 36.1% of those who participated voted for the Conservative Party. This means that fewer than one in four of the total UK population wanted a Tory government. It’s depressing enough that even that many people were fooled by Cameron’s ‘compassionate Conservative’ charade, or else just don’t care about other people, but under no circumstances can a one-in-four support be considered a mandate.
That didn’t stop Cameron and co feeling they were entitled to form a government, even if they did need the LibDems to be their puppets to achieve a majority. And you don’t see Tories campaigning for compulsory voting (like they have in Australia) – because he knows that non-voters are predominantly poor, young, or both. And if those people voted, they definitely wouldn’t be voting Tory. A compulsory voting rule would mean the Conservatives never getting a sniff of power for the foreseeable future.
Osborne wants us to believe that a 57% vote out of a 20% turnover means most people in the union didn’t want a strike – but equally, it means that those who didn’t want a strike either didn’t care enough to turn out and vote against it, or else didn’t exist beyond the few who did vote.
It’s a cliché but also a solid truth that laws and policy are made by those who turn up. The PCS union members who bothered to vote quite rightly get to decide what the union does. And given that the Tories can only ever get to govern if enough of the poor and young don’t vote, Osborne’s posturing is just that – and vilely hypocritical.
When you look at the Conservatives’ record of saying one thing while their actions are proving something else entirely, I think the evidence is absolutely indisputable: they don’t care about you, me or anyone but themselves and their backers. But they’re all too happy to act ‘shamefully and cynically’ to try to turn public opinion against anyone who dares to resist them. Cameron, Osborne and co are quite happy to see the country ‘held to ransom’ – they just want to make sure they’re the only ones who can do so, while stripping the rest of us of any means of resisting their robbery.
I urge you, even plead with you:
– see through the government’s very transparent lies
– support any group that stands up and resists. Unlike the Tories, those resisters are not just acting in their own interests – they’re fighting for the rights and wellbeing of all of us. No matter how much the government tries to spin a different tale.
– spread the information you’ll find here and elsewhere, so that others become informed and harder to fool, too. A decent future for this country depends on it.