Sunday, 27 November 2011

We're in this together

'We're in this together.' It's what I said to my bank manager, Dave.

'Dave,' I said - I knew that was his name because he had it on a name tag on his jumper. 'Dave,' I said. 'I won't lie. This is going to hurt. But it would be irresponsible to do nothing. Difficult decisions have to be taken. We have to be grown up. We have to tackle things head on. Grasp the nettle. All that.'

He looked confused. I could tell I was going to have to spell things out. Literally.

'C.U.T.S.' I said. 'Cuts, Dave, cuts.' He was still looking blank. I tried not to sigh. Tried not to roll my eyes. I fear I might have failed. Anyway I struggled on. 'We have to bring expenditure down. We can't go living beyond our means. We've had the good times and now we have to pay for it.' And then I explained as carefully and as slowly as I could what the current economic situation meant for us both. Me as a customer of the bank and him as its employee.

 I told him that while yes, I had, technically, entered into an agreement saying that I would repay my mortgage over twenty years at £700 per month, the scale of the economic catastrophe facing us all meant that this was now unaffordable. It was unfortunate but now I would only be able to repay £500 a month for the next ten years. It was tough, but there it was. He looked incredulous at first. Then shocked. I couldn't believe he hadn't seen it coming to be honest. I began to lose a bit of patience. I might have become a bit snippy as I went on to explain that there were, of course, no guarantees that I wouldn't find this new agreement unaffordable too in the future. What with the current calamitous goings on with regard of the Eurozone sovereign debt problem, the parlous state of the national finances thanks to the last government, not to mention the way the public continued to vote irrationally on both X factor and Strictly - it was more than possible that what I might realistically be able to pay back ended up being nearer to £300 a month over five years. Really - with the way the world was going - he was lucky to be getting anything.

He was very quiet for a while. And then he started getting proper cross. Shouting, screaming, threatening to call the cops. It all got most unseemly. I couldn't believe his attitude. surely, he could see that an austerity package was not only desirable but a necessity now?

This conversation didn't happen. It's fiction. But you knew that. After all who actually gets to meet their bank manager in person nowadays. Now, you chat on the phone with a friendly guy from Mumbai or Wicklow or somewhere when you go to get your request for an overdraft turned down.

But nevertheless a similar conversation is taking place. The government - having signed up to pension agreements for millions of workers-  has decided to rip those agreements up because it's decided it can't pay them. To which we should all say tough.

Many public sector workers could have had higher paid jobs elsewhere but chose working for the state because of a desire to do some good and, yes, because of the increased security and better pension provision. If they sacrificed the chance to own a BMW 5-series in order in exchange for being able to turn the heating on in winter when they hit 65, then it seems fair to expect a government to honour its promises to them however hard that seems right now.

And actually it makes economic sense to keep pension agreements. It is, after all, only pensioners that are buying anything these days. From electric guitars to Harley-Davidsons to long haul holidays, it's only the OAPS that are spending. Any fiscal stimulus in the economy at the minute comes from the grey pound. (or from rich Greeks fleeing to London to avoid the psychic blow of having to pay tax) But like most of the Coalition decisions it's not about economic good sense. It's about undermining the public sector.

There's a lot of crap talked about how middle class we all are nowadays just because we all like wine and we all like hummus. The truth is that in all the things that count we're getting increasingly like the working class. And not even like the unionised and muscled working class of the 1950s but rather the insecure working class of the 20s and 30s. This government (and the last to be fair) are busy making casual labourers of us all. Freelancers of us all. A world where teachers, social workers, librarians, the people who process your council tax or run your sports centre - all as insecure in their employment as a 19th century docker regardless of what agreements governments signed up to.

If I had really had had a conversation with the mythical Dave the bank manager in any way like the one I describe, then obviously he would have had me arrested or sectioned. And then he would have taken my house off me.

The strikes on Wednesday are not about protecting cushy payments for state employees, they are about making sure governments honour their promises. Making sure they can't tear up treaties when it suits them without the consent of the people on whose behalf they made them.

And actually one set of public sector employees do get massively generous final salary pensions which aren't being threatened by austerity measures. MPs are alright Jack aren't they?  

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