Balnacra Arts & Pottery by Vicky Stonebridge

Soup and Solidarity.

The 30th November was a national Strike day for many of the UK’s public sector unions. Workers who are the back bone of this country have been vilified by the press and government. Nurses, teachers, bin men, support workers, nursery workers, firefighters etc have already had a 2year pay freeze, George Osborne announced on the 29th that we would be facing another freeze then a 1% cap on pay over the next years. This on a 15% inflation ? Public sector workers have also seen recruitment freezes, offices and workplaces shut, and increase in workload, job insecurity. 
Our communities are feeling the cuts in closure of childcare places, cuts in benefits, the rise in VAT, inflation, soaring fuel costs.

The strike was primarily about pensions, on top of the above the Westminster Government wants public sector workers to pay more contributions ( up to 17% of wages in some cases !! ), to work 5 years longer, and to get less of a pension in the end. The tabloids and government are lying when they say that the tax payer is paying for public sector pensions, that the private sector is paying for it. The public sector workers pay for their own pensions. The government wants to basically tax those pensions, which are essentially deferred wages- this is to pay back some of the deficit that was incurred by the bankers bail out. If the top corporations in this country paid the taxes they owe ( such as vodaphone ) it would wipe out the deficit. Why then is the public sector being targeted for massive and terrible cuts? Because the Conservative party ideal is, and has always been to do away with the public sector and leave everything to the freemarket. The freemarket will not put of fires, nurse the elderly or educate our children.

I am a rep and lay official in the Highlands and Islands Fire Brigades Union. It is a very difficult job. I have an impossible geographical area to cover, anyone reading the local papers would know that things are not all running smoothly in Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue service. Due to the cutbacks all 8 Scottish Fire and rescue services are getting amalgamated into a single Scottish Fire and rescue service. Consultations are currently running as to how 8 completely different brigades can become one. It is going to be a long difficult road. As an active rep I also have difficulties as we all know what happens to people who put their heads above the parapet. 
I work along side a Brigade FBU committee to try and protect our firefighters and the communities they serve. The FBU is affiliated to the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and that in turn to international Trade Union movements. We share common principals of working methods, ideals and ethics. Our workers rights will not be at the expense of another workers rights. We, in the trade union movement ARE ‘in it together’. Now against the cuts of the coalition government we are also in it together with community groups, charities, campaign groups, faith groups and independent community members.

The FBU didn’t ballot to strike with many of these other unions. We have all worked together to combat the pension changes. FBU and 5 other unions took the Government to court over the plans to change the way pensions are uprated from Retail Price Index(RPI) to ConsumerPrice Index (CPI) which currently would devalue all our pensions by over 15%.We expect to hear the outcome of this legal challenge within the next 6 weeks. 
As well as the coordinated campaigns like this we have negotiated each of our complex pension schemes independently. Negotiations have generally got no-where. However the FBU managed to present the government with some hard evidence about the specific Fire brigades pensions, which got them back into negotiations, and agreeing to Not set ‘cost ceilings’ – this means some flexibility about the size of pensions cash within which the terms need negotiating. ( stay with me I know the technical stuff is dull but its important to contextualise the rhetoric ). So because we are still in negotiations we did not ballot our members. This doesn’t not mean we won’t as and when required. Nor does this mean that we don’t fully support the other striking unions.

Myself and my FBU Brigade Chair were at a training event recently talking about how to show support for the striking workers. Calum came up with the genius idea of taking Soup and sandwiches around the picket lines. Which is just what we did!

Myself & my partner Richmond drove through early from the west coast & met up with lots of other Firey’s and control staff who were off duty or on holiday that day, at the Inverness Fire station. flasks were filled, rolls were filled, crates loaded into vans & off we went about and about looking for picket lines to support. This was all funded by independent generous Firefighter donations.

another thing to note, according to the news, press and Government, picket lines are scary places where people are violent and bullying. this is a LIE. I recommend anyone to go on a protest march or visit a picket line. you will find friendly normal people, a great atmosphere of solidarity and passion for protecting their workplace and fellow workers.
We received a brilliant and warm welcome from all the lines we visited. The teas, coffees, and soup was just the thing for a freezing morning!

late morning everyone congregated together to march past MP Danny Alexander’s Office, he is current Chief Secretary to the Treasury and implementing coalition Government policies which are causing dismay in his constituency area.

We then marched across the Bridge and to a Rally at the Mecure Hotel – this is the largest , if not only March I’ve ever seen in Inverness and is testament to the strength of feeling. Other events were held up and down the country. 2 million people were out. Among the media attacks on the strikers there was actually pretty good and fair coverage on the STV news. Rich was interviewed on camera but it wasn’t shown you can just see my flag for a nano second at one point.

At the Rally we were on hand with more filled rolls & soup, It was brilliant! folks snapped them up & we just ran out at as the last person filed past. There will be more action both through the courts, in the negotiating rooms and out on the streets. Until the Government starts listening to the people of this country over the bank bosses and corrupt corporate leaders we have a massive fight ahead.

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This entry was posted on December 1, 2011 by in Blog and tagged , , , , , , .

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