Take a pay cut and go to jail
Transferring responsibility for prisons from the Home Office to the new Ministry of Justice, and putting that department into the all-too-experienced hands of failed former Home Secretary Jack Straw, is already having predictable results. The grotesque discrepancy between the government's treatment of the super-rich on the one hand, and of its own employees in the Prison Service (and other sectors of the public service) on the other, shames us all. The public service is being made to lower its living standards in the name of the government's efforts to contain inflation, while thousands of others, in the private sector, make hay with burgeoning increases in income and wealth, low rates of personal taxation and total unwillingness on the part of ministers to do anything about the widening gap between the richest and the poorest. For example, this in the Guardian of 31 August 2007:
Gordon Brown yesterday made it clear that the government was not prepared to put economic stability "at risk" by changing the way in which the 2.5% pay increase is being implemented in stages. "We have succeeded in tackling inflation and having a stable economy because of discipline in pay over the last 10 years," said Mr Brown. "That discipline will have to continue."
Not much "discipline in pay" has been in evidence recently among the financiers in the City with their fat cat salaries, distended bonuses and lavish share options, all apparently paid by and to each other regardless of the success or failure of the individual concerned, never mind the public interest or the social consequences:
EMI chief executive Eric Nicoli left the business yesterday with a £3.3m payoff as the music company's new private equity owner, Terra Firma, brought in its own executives, who have no experience of the music industry, to try to turn around the ailing company. (Guardian, 30 August 07)
Boardroom pay at the UK's top companies soared 37% last year as full-time directors were rewarded with inflation-busting increases in basic salaries, big cash bonuses and substantial payouts from share schemes.
The surge in pay, which takes the average total pay for a chief executive to £2,875,000, is more than 11 times the increase in average earnings and nearly 20 times the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index. The ratio between bosses' rewards and employees' pay has risen to 98:1, up from 93:1 a year ago – meaning that the work of a chief executive is valued almost 100 times more highly than that of their employees. (Guardian, 29 August 07)
We have all had our reservations about the Prison Officers' Association in the past, but when an already derisory pay award calculated by an independent body set up by the government is effectively halved by Gordon Brown and Jack Straw by being spread over two years in the name of 'discipline in pay', in breach of the spirit of an agreement under which the prison officers gave up their right to strike in exchange for independent assessment of their pay and conditions, it's impossible to blame the screws for breaching their part of the agreement, too, by staging a one-day strike. At least their 'industrial action' has caught the attention of Mr Straw:
The Prison Officers' Association believes that the Prison Service leant on the pay review body last year to award a 1.6% rise. Colin Moses, POA national chairman, said the 29,000-strong union was demanding talks with the prisons minister Gerry Sutcliffe."What we now see is clear interference in the pay review body. Our members have taken a pay cut." (Guardian, 18 August 2007)
A rise of 1.6%, below the rate of inflation and thus a cut in real terms! Such 'discipline in pay' would cause red revolution if it were to be imposed on the hedge fund managers and the futures traders and the manipulators of derivatives and the sub-prime mortgage lenders and the SIV-lite restructurers and all the other mysterious money-magicians on whose industriousness our prosperity — or at any rate their prosperity — nowadays seems to depend.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, our Labour government — our Labour government — grossly overloads our prisons, which are bursting at the barbed wire with people suffering from mental illness and drug addiction who plainly ought not to be there at all; persists in trying to solve this problem by building more and more prisons, instead of removing those prisoners who shouldn't and needn't have been jailed in the first place; places huge strains on prison staff and thus effectively torpedoes programmes designed to rehabilitate prisoners and so to reduce the horrendous rate of re-offending after release, in consequence actually aggravating the risk to the general public — and then has the gall to impose a pay cut on the prison officers who, along with the prisoners themselves, are paying the price of government cowardice in the face of the reactionary tabloids. What a disgusting spectacle.
PS: Can this be the same Jack Straw who was Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary at the time of the US-UK attack on Iraq, and in that capacity received the advice of his own departmental lawyers that the attack would be illegal and indeed would constitute an act of aggression — advice which the then prime minister later claimed he had never seen? And when that legal advice was ignored and the aggression went ahead, did the then Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary resign in protest at the humiliation of his own once-great department? It's funny, I seem to have forgotten him doing that. Anyway, it makes him especially well qualified to scold the prison officers for their "illegal action" — in holding a one-day strike.