No unity over national strike

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AS they cannot agree on pensions reform, the Government and the trade unions were never going to reach a consensus about the impact of yesterday’s public sector walkout.

And, with the political stakes so high following the Autumn Statement, there was no prospect of David Cameron and Ed Miliband having a constructive exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Both men should have shown some humility. The Prime Minister needs to recognise that many people went on strike for the first time, and with a heavy heart, because the Coalition had ripped up longstanding contractual obligations.

Equally Mr Miliband should have recognised that many state employees chose to defy the strike because they understand the parlous state of the country’s finances, and the generous concessions that have been made by the current Government following the pensions report by Lord Hutton, the ex-Labour minister.

Negotiation, rather than confrontation, has to be the only way forward – even if neither leader agrees on the status of the dialogue between Ministers and the unions.

Yet, as the Autumn Statement showed, Britons are going to have to work longer after the Chancellor conceded that it will take at least six years of financial hardship before the nation’s finances are close to being balanced.

This does not just apply to private sector employees who have seen their own pensions compromised.

It is equally applicable to the public sector, not withstanding the anomalies between the salaries and pension entitlements accrued by the low-waged and the better off.

This is borne out by the realisation that 700,000 more jobs than envisaged are being lost in the public sector – posts that have still to be identified.

Far from being through the worst of the slump, the pain, for many, is only just beginning.

However, while Mr Cameron is right when he says low interest rates are protecting many householders from the full force of the economic storm, his cause will be helped by greater empathy rather than giving the impression, rightly or wrongly, that he wants the unions to strike so that he can portray Mr Miliband as “irresponsible, left wing and weak”.