Public service unions take action, lament the sad departure of Rodney

Monday, October 9, 2017

This week Europe’s workers are showing anger over the lack of investment and continued austerity. One of the Belgian public service unions is organizing on 10 October  a strike as the Government continues its austerity policies. Members of the German trade union Ver.di  are demonstrating on the same day for more staff in health and social services. Actions are planned  to  seek mandatory staffing levels as health services lack over 160.000 workers. The new Government coalition is asked to address this. And on the same day as the above actions,  all the French public service unions organize a strike. They protest about the lack of staff and against the proposals of the government to cut 120.000 jobs. The workers demand a payrise after years of pay freezes. Similar demands are voiced by workers in the UK. Unions there continue their actions to end the cap on public sector pay.  The PCS union has started a ballot on industrial action. Actions of a number of unions take place in several cities leading to a big action on  17 October in London. Trade unions across Spain have also staged protests over the insufficient pension level.

These continued actions and the sad departure of Rodney Bickerstaffe made me recall the so-called Winter of Discontent 1978-79. Public sector unions in the UK  were fighting against a pay cap.  There were strikes  by some of the lowest paid workers like waste collectors and gravediggers. Faced with angry reporters and questions over the “dignity of the dead” Rodney responded with “And what about the dignity of the living?” as these same reporters ignored the structural inequalities. Rodney was President of EPSC, the predecessor of EPSU, and a longtime vice-President of PSI. The news was very sad. Our thoughts are for his wife and his children, family, friends and union colleagues. I cherish his last email. He knew his predicament but was still full of humour, still had regards for others. Some random memories: Rodney interviewed me for my job in EPSU. Discussions touched upon  left politics, loyalty, representing the interests of workers in services or activities that  I as person might not agree with. We debated the possibilities of the legal minimum wage in the UK and the various obstacles, about how  other countries address this question.  When preparing a speech for him for an event in Brussels,  he showed me the brutal act of cutting out what was not on message and target.  His oratory force was used in discussions with UK members of Parliament and  Commissioner Van Miert, or to defend the changes in EPSU. Rodney also liked new gadgets. We discussed different voice recorders, their pros and cons. I think he would have loved the interpretation gadget of the major tech company called Pixel Buds, expected to come to stores soon.  And he probably would not have bought it due to the taxes avoided by that company and the injustice of this.  He always had a kind word, and a poignant observation. He could be scathing for those who attacked public services and public service workers, for those who put greed above human rights. We will remember him, his combativeness and internationalism, his kindness. A truly good person.