Imagine a country in which lollipop ladies and bin collectors were made to pay for a crisis caused by the political and economic elite.
Imagine a Government that attempted to divide its people up by turning private sector workers against public sector workers.
This is the Britain that Cameron’s Conservatives are trying to build. Today, hundreds of thousands of workers will reject this project. In every corner of the country, these pillars of our communities will stand together in one of the greatest acts of solidarity in our history. My mother and many of my friends will be among them. I am deeply proud of them – and know millions of others are feeling the same pride. After all, 61% of the British public believe this strike is justified.
This strike is not about pensions, exactly. The money being raised from extra contributions is going straight to the Treasury. The report commissioned by the Government and written by ultra-Blairite John Hutton revealed that public sector pensions will shrink as a proportion of GDP. They are becoming more affordable. This is really a tax on our public sector workers to pay for a deficit they had no role in creating.
I’ve gone through the main arguments here, so I won’t repeat them again.
But it’s worth remembering: a long list of grievances are driving our workers to strike.
It’s anger at the most brutal programme of cuts since the 1920s, hammering working people while boardroom pay goes up by 49% and billions are lost through tax evasion by the wealthiest.
It’s fury at the fact that hundreds of thousands of workers are being thrown on the scrapheap because of an ideologically charged agenda that has sucked growth out of the economy, and which will ensure that living standards in 2015 are the same as they were in 2001.
It’s outrage at the manner in which a party which won just 36% of the vote – and just 23.4% of eligible voters – is attempting to radically transform Britain, and then has the cheek to question the democratic legitimacy of today’s strike action.
We’ll see placards today about everything from the privatisation of the NHS to the trebling of tuition fees, from the scrapping of EMA to attacks on benefits. Anti-union laws mean that workers cannot strike over all of these issues – but they are major reasons that there is such widespread support for this day of action.
Today must be the beginning of a popular campaign to stop this Government trashing the economic and social fabric of this country, consigning millions to poverty, unemployment and insecurity. It must give us the confidence to build a coherent alternative to Osbornomics.
Labour’s leadership has failed to provide exactly that – leadership. While hundreds of thousands of its natural supporters are bravely resisting what the Government is doing is to this country, there has been a dereliction of duty on the part of Ed Miliband. Though he has spoken passionately about breaking from “the consensus”, has not thrown his support behind this just cause. We must build pressure to force him to accept – like the majority of the public – that this strike is justified.
The Tories and the right-wing press will throw everything at this movement. Expect venom and vitriol. But this is a historic day – the day that working people stood up for their rights against an unjust government. It will not be an easy fight. Success lies in appealing to a broader public being hammered by this Government’s cuts agenda, and by resisting attempts by Cameron’s clique to play the politics of divide-and-rule.
It’s a battle we can win. For the future of our country, it’s a battle that we must win.