Those of you who read my ramblings on a regular basis, will know that 99% of the time, I try to avoid any of the politics involved in this job, and concentrate on real people and real events. This time, however, the politics are a little bit too big to ignore.
In under nine hours time, a huge strike by some two million public-sector workers will begin. I wrote about my feelings on this strike in a post at the beginning of the month, and I still stand by what I said then. In fact, I resigned my membership of the union last week, so as not to be in a position where I had to decide at the last minute where my allegiances lay, or leave me any room for second thoughts.
Over the past few days I have spoken to many of my colleagues, all with differing views on the strike. Some are supporting it wholeheartedly and will down tools, some who are still torn between the patients and the greater cause, some who agree with me that this is the wrong way to go about things. The unions and the ambulance service have been in negotiations as to what sort of cover will be provided, and the agreement that has been reached is that the vast majority of calls that we normally attend will still have an ambulance arrive. At times the response may be slower, but the most serious calls will still hopefully receive the normal fast response.
This agreement, whilst seen by many as turning the strike into a something of a damp squib rather than a strong statement, did something positive for those who were unsure as to the best course of action. Many, many paramedics (and nurses) felt very uncomfortable with the idea of striking and leaving their patients in need. There was a general uneasiness, something that I think the government (or Government) relied on a little too much, amongst many public servants, particularly those with direct and immediate public contact. An uneasiness that leaving our jobs for a day would impact badly on people who, through no fault of their own, are some of the most vulnerable in our society.
The uneasiness felt by many, certainly in the health service sector, took yet another battering this afternoon. Just a few hours ago, the Chancellor announced that at the end of the two year public-sector pay freeze, a fiscal policy that still has some time to run, there will now be another two year period of only 1% pay rises. With an annual rate of inflation somewhere around the 5% mark, that pay-cap, in real terms, means a pay cut over four years in the region of some twenty percent. At the same time, tens of thousands of people on benefits, some genuinely, some whose claims range from dubious to outright fraudulent, will enjoy a rise in line with that rate of inflation. I'm no economist, but surely, the best way to get the economy jump-started is to encourage more work, not less.
Many of those who were left confused and unsure about a strike, and who were going to work through it, are now left battered and bruised by another swipe taken at their goodwill and desire to serve the public. There's a limit to how many times a person can be beaten and bounce back. There's a limit to how much goodwill can be stretched. Every person has their breaking point, even the most public spirited of us.
I'll be working through the strike, but with a little more personal turmoil than I had anticipated. I will try to tweet throughout tonight and tomorrow night, bringing a selection of sights, sounds and thoughts from the front line. Who knows what lays the other side of the picket lines.