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Tevez, the great British strike and the race to the bottom

November 30, 2011

Anyone in any doubt about the impact sport has on public consciousness only need to look at the reaction to the strike of public sector workers happening today in Britain.

Admittedly, the most popular reaction is students saying something like “I get the day off school!! Love this strike!” but there has also been some darker reactions. A lot of those are “get back to work you lazy bastards”, the less cruel but variant of this response is to call the strike “doing a Tevez”.

Carlos Tevez is a brilliant Argentinan striker currently contracted to Manchester City. He moved to Manchester City from bitter rivals Manchester United in 2009.  A year and a half later, he handed in a transfer request. According to BBC Sport he said, “My relationship with certain executives and individuals at the club has broken down and is now beyond repair. I do not wish to expand on this at this stage. They know, because I have told them.”

A senior club official described this as “ludicrous and nonsensical” and refused to accept his transfer request. A month later, he had a turn around and stated he was happy to stay at the club.  Six months later,  he said that he was willing to stay but “there is an issue we need to sort out and that’s the long distance between me and my family.” His children live in Buenos Aries.

Months later, however, Tevez was embroiled in his biggest controversy yet. After being named after a substitute, he was asked to come on in the 60th minute, according to manager Roberto Mancini, Tevez refused to go on to the pitch. Tevez, however, maintained he didn’t refuse to go on. Soccernet reported that “Carlos Tevez has issued a statement claiming that he “never refused to play” against Bayern Munich and that his “position may have been misunderstood”. and Tevez stated that, “In Munich on Tuesday I had warmed up and was ready to play. This is not the right time to get into specific details as to why this did not happen. But I wish to state that I never refused to play.”

All throughout Tevez has not helped his cause by refusing to be specific on anything, meaning the worst of intentions can always be attributed to him.

The reaction to this supposed refusal to play was ferocious. Mancini told a press conference, “For me, if a player earns a lot of money playing for Manchester City, in the Champions League, and he behaves like this – no, he cannot play for us again. Never. He has wanted to leave for the last two years. For two years I have helped him, and now he has refused to play. Never again. Finished.”

Graham Souness  called him “a disgrace to football” and “He epitomizes what most people think is wrong with modern football.”

If Tevez had made it clear that he wanted to leave the club to be closer to his family but the club was refusing, then Tevez’s apparent refusal to play could garner some support, however, in lieu of him explaining his position on it all, it is the easiest thing in the world to portray him as an overpaid spoiled brat who doesn’t know how good he has got it.

Herein is what is being attempted by referring to the strike as “doing a Tevez”. Like Tevez, they are saying, public sector workers are underworked, overpaid and refuse to work even though they have it so good.

There are some obvious pretty stark differences between the two. Tevez’s wage is reportedly  £250,000 pounds per week, while according to this article “the average salary for civil servants is, according the UK Government’s own Office of National Statistics, £22,850 per year, a figure that includes in its calculation the six-figure salaries of the upper echelons which suggests the median salary is lower than that quoted.”

So, the average civil servant would have to work 12 years to get what Tevez gets in a week. Moreover, this is set to get worse. In addition, Osborne’s plan to cap pay rises at 1 per cent means that some workers will have suffer an average 16 per cent pay cut over the next five years. This is not to mention the 710,000 public servants, who will be sacked due to these austerity measures.

This on top of the attacks of the Government on pensions “the government-commissioned Hutton Report shows [that] public sector pension payments peaked at 1.9 per cent of GDP in 2010-11 and will gradually fall over the next fifty years to 1.4 per cent in 2059-60. The government’s plan to ask employees to work longer and pay more is a political choice, not an economic necessity.”

Alas, these critics will say. They are still better off than most other people, so why are they complaining?

Firstly, the 710,000 who lose their jobs will most certainly not be better off.  The New Statesman article also points out “many pensionless private sector workers depend on their partner’s public sector pension to ensure a basic standard of living in old age.”

That people in the private sector aren’t getting paid well or do not have access to as comprehensive pension funds is not an argument against the public sector workers having this but rather an argument for it being spread to the private sector. Those arguing against the strike on those grounds really enter into the race to the bottom argument which has no end. I mean, after all, British private sector workers have it better than most of the population in the Horn of Africa, so would that make it acceptable for their living standards to be driven to that level?

Moreover, the realisation needs to be made sooner or later, that a willingness to strike is a product of collective organisation. Public Sector workers have a higher level of unionisation, consequently more of a willingness to collective fight for wage and conditions and therefore a relatively higher wage level. Strikes and unions aren’t the cause of private sector workers problems, rather they are the solution.

In contarast to Tevez, the Unions involved have been clear about what they want and why. A gutted public sector will not just lead to individual deprivation, it will lead to many ongoing social problems, which will affect everybody.

So, far from doing a ‘Tevez’, the Public Sector workers on strike have more in common with striking baseball players, who in 1972, went on strike and achieved a $500,000 increase in their pension fund and the right to salary arbitration. They deserve our full support, because if this fight is lost, it will ultimately hurt everyone.

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