Public Sector Workers Stage One-Day Strike

Written by: Michelle Kaminski

Primary Source: UnionWork

Public sector workers are under attack in Michigan, around the nation, and around the globe. But in the U.K. last week, several hundred thousand public employees participated in a one-day strike action. Here in the U.S., we didn’t see much news coverage of their strike. So, here’s a link to the The Guardian newspaper with the story. (And here are some great images – scroll down for the one with strikers dressed as zombies.)

International Workers of the World (IWW) Sabo Cat tells us to “Strike!” Illustration by Eric Drooker, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

International Workers of the World (IWW) Sabo Cat tells us to “Strike!” Illustration by Eric Drooker, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

One of the strikers’ core issues is declining real wages: wages were frozen from 2010-12, and increases since then have been capped at a level below the increase in the cost of living. Privatization of public sector work (like the Aramark issue in the Michigan prison system) and heavy workloads are also a concern, as are pension cuts. Sound familiar?

Some of my thoughts about the event and the news coverage:

Fight for your rights!

I’m heartened to see so many workers come out to demonstrate. As one of the workers in the video says, if you don’t defend your rights, they’ll be taken away.

Media bias? In which direction?

It’s hard to get a clear number, but this strike involved over 100,000 workers – probably hundreds of thousands. It seems like a big event to me. Maybe I blinked, but I didn’t see much coverage of it in the U.S. media. (If you did, let me know where.) I heard about it from Workers Independent News.

Misplaced envy

One of the bystanders who was interviewed in the video said that his pension would never be as good as public sector workers’ pensions, implying they shouldn’t be complaining. Many Americans think this as well. But too many blame the government workers for this. We need to be asking why so many other people, who work so hard, get so little for their efforts — not why government workers get what they do. (Here in Michigan, autoworkers are also a favorite target of this misplaced envy.) Part of what these folks did was form a union to protect their rights. If more workers in more industries did this, working people as a whole would be better off.

And if you want to say some people get too much, well, my candidates would include the bankers who crashed the entire world economy in 2008 – while making $250,000,000 a year! Yes, that’s a quarter of a billion-with-a-“B” dollars! I don’t think that people who earn $50,000, $60,000 or even $100,000 are the problem. But too many of those who make hundreds of millions of dollars a year think that everyone else is overpaid.

What’s a decent wage these days?

Well, this is only one view, but USA Today ran a graphic on how much it costs to live the American Dream. (Click on “1 Essentials”, then “2 Extras” etc. to get the full graphic.)  The number they came up with was just over $130,000 for a family of four. That would take two full-time workers, each earning $31.34 per hour. And yet, some politicians and business lobbyists claim that having a minimum wage below $8.00 is just fine.

What can we do about this? Here’s my short list:

1. Join a union.  Be active in your union.  It’s a democratic institution and it works best when everyone participates.

2. Stay informed.  Recognize the difference between facts and spin. Know what’s in your interest.

3. Vote for public officials who will represent your interests.  Let them know what your interest are.

4. Stand together.  We sometimes think that what happens far away doesn’t affect us. But people around the globe are subjected to similar tactics to take from the poor (and the middle) and give to the rich.  The attacks on public workers in the UK are the same as here in Michigan. We need to stand together.