Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Since these price increases are coming at the same time as New Labour pay cuts for the public sector, I would expect an increased tempo in industrial action. In 2007, the number of working days lost to strike action grew 20-fold over the year, with Prison Officers, Royal Mail workers, civil servants, lecturers and others out on the picket lines. It was the second highest rate of strikes in a decade. Although New Labour's early rule was characterised by a decreasing incidence of strike action, a momentum has built up since the firefighters dispute in late 2002. It's pretty far from the peaks of industrial action in the 1970s and 1980s, but as unions increasingly co-ordinate their actions in response to a co-ordinated offensive by the government, last year's record could well be broken. That changes matters. The Tories might like to capitalise on fears of a new 'winter of discontent', but this also serves to remind people of the hated Thatcher years that followed. Given that Cameron's strategy is to try and woo working class voters suffering, and pose as a 'progressive', he won't necessarily do himself any favours with loud union-bashing. Of course, talking to business audiences, the Tories are all for breaking the public sector unions, but in the context of strikes that will widely be seen as legitimate, they may decide to restrain their rhetoric a bit.
Union leaders are pleading with the government to tax the rich and forge a new election deal, modelled on the Warwick Agreement, in advance of 2010. But if New Labour failed to uphold its promises last time round, there is no reason why anyone should believe them this time. And why on earth would union members want to be party to an ass-saving deal with a government that gratuitously attacks them? Fortunately, the PCS is looking at further national strike action at its upcoming conference. Healthcare workers are being balloted on the government's pathetic pay offer, and if they vote against it, they may be out as well. Further education unions have rejected their pay offer. The NUT's recent, highly successful national strike action is likely to result in further action. If you want your money back, you better hope for a big co-ordinated stoppage, and soon.