Following Unison’s strike last month, Nipsa, which represents 45,000 workers across the public sector, is urging its membership to vote ‘yes’ in a ballot, aimed at bringing about industrial action.
Not only will any further stoppages bring widespread misery, but the vast majority of union members don’t want to strike. Unison’s walkout was carried on a ballot of just 18% of its membership.
That’s hardly surprising. Most employees join a union, simply expecting it to help them if they encounter a problem in the work place, while their leaders are sometimes driven by hard-line politics.
Where the latest batch of strikes is concerned, unions readily admit that they don’t know the details of public sector job losses which they say are in the pipeline. Some of those potential redundancies could yet be avoided with a little flexibility where it comes to pay and conditions. However their stock response is nothing to do with protecting jobs. They just repeat, “you can’t cut your way out of a recession”.
That’s nothing to do with pay, or conditions, or even possible lay-offs; it’s an abstract political theory. And it’s extremely foolhardy to persuade people to risk their livelihoods on the basis of an economic doctrine, especially when it’s based on a flawed understanding of our current financial circumstances.
What the unions don’t seem to grasp, as they call for more public spending, is that the mess which the current government inherited from Labour is primarily a debt crisis, just as the turmoil engulfing international markets stems from anxiety that countries will not be able to pay back what they owe.
In difficult circumstances, the chancellor, George Osborne, managed to defy a world trend and stabilise the UK’s economy, but he could only do that by devising a credible plan to cut our deficit.
In contrast the seventeen countries which use the euro are currently locked in crisis talks. Setting aside the bizarre jargon of ‘Greek haircuts’ and ‘big bazookas’, the crux is that you can’t tackle a debt crisis by continually taking on more debt.
Thankfully, as a region of the UK, we’ve got room for optimism. We’re part of a relatively stable economy and our government took prompt action to get the deficit under control. We’ve also got a favourable settlement on our block grant, avoiding the worst spending cuts, felt across the rest of Britain.
We still need to do our bit, of course, and save money where we can. And the parties at Stormont need to be more straightforward when they spell out which cuts are necessary, so that jobs and services can be saved where possible.
As for the unions, they can only serve workers’ interests well if they are constructive and flexible. Most of their members, after all, aren’t fiery leftists, spoiling for a fight with the government. They just want help and advice which enables them to keep their jobs and work hard in decent conditions. The unions should stick to looking out for their welfare, rather than campaigning for strikes on the basis of outdated political ideology.
From yesterday's News Letter.