Saturday 5 November 2011

Unions, Strikes and Scabs

I ummed and arred over writing this blog but like most things I ponder over, I end up doing them anyway. I pondered because as is often the case my views are not popular but hey ho, they are my views and I don't try and encourage anyone to agree!

The ambulance service is a very unionised institution. Staff are actively encouraged to join one during their training or once they are posted to a station. I am with Unison. I am with them because they are the only union represented at my station and because unions in general are very good if you need representation with any issues at work. They also try to act in the best interest of their members when it comes to government policy and changes to working conditions. They are however biased and i believe anti-democratic. They are very closely aligned to one political party and dictate everything from policy to leaders. That is where a high percentage of our monthly fees go. As their affiliated party is not currently the party chosen by the people, I think its fair to say, that that is their motivation behind persistent strike threats. 

As most of you are aware, the government have been making some very radical and drastic cut backs to reduce the national deficit. One of the main things to effect us and all public sector workers is changes to our pensions. They want us to pay more, work longer and receive less. Obviously, we don't want this. Why would we? We work hard enough and long enough as it is and quite frankly, we feel we are being treated like crap. After much deliberation, Unison decided to ballot its 1.1 million member on strike action. The result was a 78 per cent majority, with 245,358 in favour and 70,253 against, on a turnout of only 29 per cent of the members balloted. Whilst I don’t agree with the length to which the government are going I also don’t believe the unions are being realistic in their demands. This country and Europe in general are financially up shit creek, and without drastic measures, further financial misery is inevitable. Yes, it wasn’t our doing, it was the greedy bankers but everyone has too pay the price. It’s just how it is.

I for one won't be striking for a number of reasons, and its not because I'm happy with what is happening, I'm not. Firstly, I don't agree with striking. I don't believe that what is essentially blackmail, is the correct way to make a case for what you want. Secondly, I joined the job to help people. It wouldn't sit well with me to stand on the picket line knowing that people would die or suffer because of our action, and they would. I assure you of that. There may well be a skeleton staff running but not all the holes will be plugged. People wont phone 999 because we are on strike and that is not what the ambulance service stands for. Finally, from a selfish point of view, I can't afford to lose a days pay! If I have to work on the 30th November, I will. I will make no apologies for it  and if that means I have to relinquish my union membership, get called a scab and take flack in the mess room then so be it. I've never been one to suffer fools gladly and I wont start now. Everyone has the right to do what they believe in, but I feel union culture removes that. The 'us vs them' attitude puts walls up with can't be easily removed. 

As well as my personal reasons for not striking I believe there will be much greater consequences should the strike go ahead. Public opinion and trust in the ambulance service will be damaged and it's not David Cameron or Nick Clegg who will bare the brunt of that, it's us. As per the riots, public frustrations against the government will be aimed directly and the people on the front line. The strikes of 1989 had great public support but today, the public are in the same boat as us. Everyone is being pinched financially and I don't think they will accept us putting lives at risk for money at a time where they are become increasingly sympathetic towards the governments cause. The government itself wont tolerate it either. Striking is becoming more and more frequent and at such unstable economic times, the government will not be held to ransom. As unions repeatedly push with strikes and threats of strikes based on low turnout they are making the case for legislative reform even more compelling and much harder to resist. Having striking made unlawful will mean the end of any positive dialogue and that will not be in the best interest of its members. 

For what has been billed as 'the strike of the century' turn out was poor, very poor indeed! It doesn't convey the showing of strength that was promised nor does it show that members have any confidence in their unions.  If the strike goes ahead, it will do so on the say so of less than 25% of it's members and although it may be enough to legally go on strike I don't think that it conveys the right message. It smacks of desperation, a final roll of the dice that if unsuccessful may end any hope of protecting our pensions and working conditions. It also poses the question of whether we need unions any more. Unions were founded when workers had no rights but times have changed. All workers are protected by law to such a great extent now that the need for union representation could just as easily be filled by any solicitor, most of which can be obtained free of charge. The unions clearly don’t have a majority of support from their members, through either frustration, disillusionment or apathy, and without full backing and confident of it's members the once booming voice of strength is now nothing more than a polite whisper.

I'm all for taking the fight to the government, whether it be pensions, working conditions or wages but it needs to be done in the right way without compromising what the ambulance service stands for and without bias from political agenda. We are there to help the public at their greatest times of need (yes we moan about the drunks etc but still....) and that principle must not be lost in the fight for our working rights.

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