Public Sector Strike – Barnsley

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It was a fine day for marching around Barnsley in support of public services and the pay of public sector staff.

The media machine has been in full swing today, bending over backwards to find those ‘inconvenienced and angry’ at the strikers. Aghast that trade unions and their members possess the temerity to demand a living wage during these austere times. Paving the way, smoothing public opinion for the raft of anti-trade union legislation to come. In much the same way as the crude hatchetting of benefit claimants ahead of the vicious wave of welfare reforms last year.

You will no doubt have heard many stories of the pampered public sector in the news today. However, since 2010 pay freezes have eroded the wages of public sector workers by as much as 15-20%. Now an under the rate of inflation 1% pay offer, kicks sand in the face of workers who are already  down, battered by the rising cost of living and increasing pension contributions for a far lesser return. Far from the Tory myth of a sector full of generous pay and gilt edged pensions.

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Barnsley is still struggling to recover from the loss of its main industry. The death of deep coal mining decimated Barnsley and it is still trying to pick its way out of the wreckage. The public sector is now one of, if not the largest employer in Barnsley. The loss of even just a few jobs hits the area hard, but the year upon year mauling handed out in the form of local authority funding cuts and real terms pay cuts, is holding any hope of a recovery for Barnsley back.

With this backdrop in mind, hundreds of public sector workers gathered in the shadows of the two monolithic structures of Westgate Plaza and Gateway Plaza, in which many council employees are stationed. Representatives of Unison, GMB, PCS, NUT, FBU and Unite came together, along with Barnsley Retirees Action Group and the Anti Bedroom Tax campaign, banners and flags flying to march together around the town centre. Also present in large numbers were the Freedom Riders, a group composed of Barnsley retirees, who have held a number of protests against the withdrawal of free travel for pensioners and the disabled in South Yorkshire.

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The march was followed by a rally with nearly a dozen speakers, representing the unions, the Freedom Riders and visiting trade unionists from Norway and Eastern Europe. All gave rousing speeches highlighting the attack on public services, led by the spectre of austerity.

The fundamental question is, why is there no money for public services? Austerity is not an accident, it is a construct that is designed to hoover wealth upwards and convert public money into private profit. A government hell bent on forcing through their neoliberal agenda, killing our public services while handing contracts to their wealthy friends, is the enemy of the people. The very people that governments are tasked to defend and protect.

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Our second enemy is apathy. Those colleagues that have given up, think that they can’t make a difference or have absorbed the propaganda pumped out by the main stream media on a daily basis, are the very people that crossed the picket lines today. Or even went on strike, but stayed at home. These are the people that we need to motivate, they too are our comrades but need our support and encouragement. We should not give up on them, as they too need protection and representation.

At a time when the government is the enemy of the people, we need unions more than ever.