Monday, 1 December 2008

The Pension Pirates

The pirates are out again, leading their followers to attack all that serves the public good. Their latest target is public sector workers and their pensions. Their strategy is simple: make working for the public sector as unattractive as possible, state institutions will be weakened, and piracy can flourish on the high sea of laissez faire.

For decades public sector workers were told to put up with lower pay than their private sector counterparts because they had better job security. Then with privatization and outsourcing, job security plummeted. They were then told that they still had their reliable pension scheme. In any case, they should not complain about being paid less than private sector people who were the real wealth creators of society through their devotion to peddling cigarettes, weapons, alcohol, gambling, vacuous status symbols, and environmentally destructive products. They should accept that as mere teachers, nurses, social workers, police, and servants of democratic institutions, it was their duty to lead a modest life. To obsessively point to the gap between themselves and the better rewarded commercial class would only lead to the politics of envy.

How the politics of envy has been turned. Now the pirates want to destroy the pension scheme of public sector workers by inciting private sector’s jealousy and resentment. By using preposterous language like ‘pension apartheid’, they want to stir up enmity against the one distinct benefit left to public sector workers. They know that if they could sink the public sector pension scheme, it would go a long way to cut down the recruitment package for public sector workers. And the more difficult it is to attract good candidates for public service, the more they can deride the quality of public sector workers. The vicious vortex would drown all belief in the values of public service, leaving the pirates to raid and plunder for private profit.

What is to be done? A counter-attack has to be launched. These pirates thrive on people’s fear. Barely concealing their nasty vindictiveness, they seek to put their intended victims on the defensive. If they were allowed to press on unchallenged, they would grow bolder until they come within striking distance and the public realm would be blown out of the water.

A key tactic is to expose their intentions. They have always despised public servants upholding the public good. If only the ruthless could roam freely, without being taxed, without being regulated, without being prevented from exploiting the weak, without being prosecuted for their thoughtless transgression, they could have complete control over the world. If they were able to undermine the public sector, they would then say that everyone should turn to the private sector for medical care, good education, basic security, decent housing, and all else that matters. Those on low income would have to suffer in silence, and hope at best the odd charity might just about keep them afloat.

So don’t just look on in despondency as the pirates approach. Speak up and tell the wider world that society would truly be broken if these scoundrels get their way. Ring out the alarm bells to warn of the consequences of deprecating people who serve the public good.

But remember, these pirates won’t be found sailing around in battle-weary ships with ‘skull and bones’ flapping in the wind. They are more likely to be spotted on billionaires yachts, flanked by champagne and caviar.

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