Socialist Worker

Myths behind attacks on public sector workers

Issue No. 2159

New figures out this week prove that it is an “urban myth” that public sector workers are having an easy ride compared to those in the private sector.

The people at the top of society advocating a pay freeze for public sector workers claim that this has to be done because wages in the private sector are falling dramatically.

It is only fair, they say, that workers in the public sector take some of the pain.

They point to the fact that average public sector earnings for the first three months of this year rose by 3.6 percent while they fell by 1.2 percent in the private sector.

But new figures from the Income Data Services (IDS) organisation take apart this argument. They show that these figures include bonuses and so are skewed by the huge drop in bonuses in the financial sector in February and March.

The IDS report shows that there is in fact a much smaller gap between public and private sector earnings.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Alastair Hatchett and Ken Mulkearn of IDS state that, “The data for April 2009, using figures not seasonally adjusted and excluding bonuses, shows earnings growth of 2.5 percent in the private sector and 3.3 percent in the public sector.”

They conclude, “It would be quite ridiculous for an urban myth about the private sector to become the basis of policy for the public sector.”

Politicians, bosses and media pundits are trying to create a mythical divide between public sector workers – with their supposed “gold-plated” pay and pensions – and put upon private sector workers, struggling to survive.

But the people who deliver vital public services – such as nurses, refuse workers, firefighters and millions of others – face low pay and long hours, just like their colleagues in the private sector.

And if the government gets away with cutting the wages of these workers, it will embolden private bosses to increase attacks in that sector.

All the main political parties agree that there must be a swathe of cuts across the public sector to balance the books after the massive bailouts of the banks.

The Tories have pledged to cut 10 percent off spending on areas other than the NHS and schools.

Chancellor Alistair Darling set out £15 billion worth of spending cuts in the budget in April, on top of £10 billion cuts already announced.

This will severely hit public services and lead to tens of thousands of job losses. Many sectors, such as further and higher education, are already seeing dramatic cuts in funding.

It is clear that whoever wins the next general election intends to carry out a bonfire of public services. Unions need to fight now to defend the services that millions of people rely on, especially during a deep economic crisis.


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Tue 7 Jul 2009, 18:50 BST
Issue No. 2159
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