Bill Carmichael: Fallacy at the heart of strikers’ case

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WELL, how did you survive the Great Strike of 2014?

Did you manage to battle through the massed pickets to get to work? How did you cope with the food shortages in the shops and the power cuts?

Some readers will be scratching their heads in puzzlement by now and asking: “Strike? What strike?” You may have missed it, but the unions claimed more than a million public sector workers walked out yesterday in what was billed as the beginning of a “summer of resistance” against Government austerity.

In a hysterical bit of hyperbole, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentice even claimed the 24-hour walkout “could end up being bigger than the General Strike of 1926”. Oh, come on! I am a keen student of British history, so I hope you will forgive a snort of derision. In 1926 the then government invoked emergency powers and the strikers threatened revolution.

I hardly think a couple of miserable looking pen pushers standing outside the town hall waving placards for an hour before disappearing off to the pub quite cuts the mustard.

The problem for the modern union movement is that it no longer wields the kind of industrial muscle that in the past could bring the country to a halt. Union membership has halved since 1980 and the fewer than six million who still pay their union subs are overwhelmingly concentrated in the public sector.

In the 1970s if the miners or the dockers went on strike, the lights went out and there was no food in the shops. Today, does anyone much care if the local council climate change officer or the real nappy co-ordinator takes a day off?

None of this would matter if the public sector unions had a good case. But the fact is that despite “the cuts”, people in the public sector are much better paid – 13 per cent better according to the Office of National Statistics – than workers in the wealth-creating sector and they also enjoy much better pensions and holiday entitlements.

And let us never forget that overall there are no “cuts” at all – public spending is increasing rapidly and we continue to spend far more than we earn. As a country, we are having to borrow £2bn a week just because we refuse to live within our means.

The unions – and the Labour Party – argue that we should borrow and spend even more. Fine, if that is what you want. But be under no illusion that money we borrow today will one day in the future have to be paid back.

Given the terrifying scale of our national debt – £1.3 trillion and counting – it won’t be paid by the current generation, but by our successors.

So the strikers effectively want us to steal money from our own children and grandchildren in order to fund a pay rise for an already privileged group of public sector workers.

That’s not just wrong, it is positively wicked.

Harsh judgment

Harriet Harman claims she is a victim of sexism and was denied the job of deputy prime minister under Gordon Brown in 2007 because she is a woman.

Labour’s deputy leader also says she was denied a seat at the crucial 2009 G20 summit meetings to discuss the financial crisis and was packed off to a dinner for the spouses of international leaders instead.

Is sexism really to blame here? Labour’s former spin doctor Damian McBride points out that Brown’s key adviser at the meetings was the financial expert Baroness Shriti Vadera – so gender discrimination doesn’t appear to be an issue.

McBride asks pointedly: “What on earth would Harriet have contributed to the meetings and dinner where Gordon, Obama, Sarkozy and Merkel were hammering out the global financial stimulus to bring the world out of recession? I mean seriously, what?”

He added: “Gordon judged people on only one thing: were they useless or not.”

Ouch! The non-too subtle suggestion is that Harman was excluded not because she is a woman, but because she is a bit dim.