Monday, 26 March 2012

Battle At The Pumps

Malcolm Clarke writes:

My sister and I have an in-joke between us where every time I discuss Politics, which given my job and interests outside of work is quite often, she says "Politics does not affect me". She says this to snap me out of whatever eloquent tangent I momentarily skewed into and bring me back to reality and, my sister hopes, less intense conversation.

One occasion where I recall Politics definitely affecting me was in the year 2000 when the truck drivers took strike action and blockaded the oil tankers leaving the depots to deliver fuel to the petrol stations. Petrol stations quickly ran dry as word got round and huge queues for fuel developed.

I was 19 and I remember that unless we found a petrol station with fuel available I was not going to return to University until things improved. I realised the power of collective action to deliver a strong message to government. My own story is that we fortunately we found a petrol station with fuel and amazingly, no queue so I was able to return to my student haze.

The strike ultimately fizzled out when hospitals began to run out of stitches for operations and the pressure on the emergency services turned the tide on the strike action organisers. The price of fuel in 2000 was 80p a litre, but it was the rate of the price increases that, like today, upset consumers. Ironically a return to 80p per litre now would see street parties and I'd be the first to pop a cork!

Look at this chart of fuel prices:

Month 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Jan 87.3p 104.0p 87.0p 111.4p 127.9p
Feb 86.7p 104.3p 90.2p 112.1p 128.7p
March 89.4p 106.4p 90.8p 115.6p 132.2p
April 92.6p 108.1p 94.8p 120.5p 134.7p
May 95.6p 112.5p 97.7p 121.0p 136.7p
June 96.9p 117.6p 102.2p 118.2p 135.7p
July 96.7p 118.7p 103.0p 117.3p 134.9p
August 96.0p 113.4p 103.9p 116.2p 135.5p
Sept 95.3p 112.0p 106.2p 115.3p 135.4p
Oct 97.7p 104.7p 105.7p 117.4p 134.6p
Nov 101.1p 94.9p 108.4p 118.9p 133.8p
Dec 102.8p 89.5p 108.2p 122.0p 132.5p

Chart from http://www.petrolprices.com/the-price-of-fuel.html

As I write today my local station is charging about 137.9p now. As a car user for ten years the steady increase in the petrol prices has always frustrated me as the cost of MOT, tax, insurance and the cars themselves never come down. Generally the rising price of fuel raises much tax revenue in the form of fuel duty for the public purse, but causes hauliers and those who transport food around the country to raise their prices which is then passed on to the cost of the food and goods themselves. As consumers we end up paying twice for the problem, then we have to pay the additional VAT on the inflated prices.

I can well understand why the truckers have balloted to strike, the prices of petrol are crazy now. It is not so much the price but the fear that these steady increases which are way over the rate of inflation will just go on and on. Soon we will be paying £1.50 per litre for petrol! Each increase can force more families out of owning a car. Public transport is not longer able to be subsidised by local government due to their massively reduced central government grants, which hits our rural communities hard. The oil companies make billions of pounds profit per year, much good this does the struggling family, single mother or disabled person who lives on a tight budget and relies on their car to get around.

I read in the newspapers today that in the event the strike action commences PM David Cameron plans to use Army wagon drivers but this is an out of touch reaction so typical of his government. Is he asking himself why these strikes are being discussed and the pressure working class families face because of the price increases? No, he simply deals with the unrest in a practical way instead of tackling the real issues. This is a government that gives tax breaks to the wealthiest in society as a way of saying to those who evade tax, "you win". Perhaps he really believes that those who evade tax at 50p in the pound tax will make honest self-assessment returns at 45p?

Strike action should always be a last resort and the time has come to discuss this issue in more detail.

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