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On public sector strikes

In the end, whether or not a public sector union \”wins\” a strike or not depends upon what the public think of the reasons for striking.

Mr Prentis said planned changes to pensions would lead to public sector workers paying in more, receiving less in retirement and working longer.

True, but you probably don\’t what that public finding out how much longer you\’ll have to work, how much more you\’ll have to pay and how much less you\’ll get.

Because the deal you\’re being offered is still vastly better than the ones that private sector workers get so you might not get as much public support as you think.

In fact, I wouldn\’t be at all surprised to see such strikes engendering a certain anger among the general public. Possibly even abuse of pickets and the like….and wouldn\’t that be fun?

27 thoughts on “On public sector strikes”

  1. The public need to realise that the role of public sector unions is to extract from taxpayers the highest possible price for the least possible number of hours worked.

    If we paid every public sector worker £ 1 Million per year, would these unions cease to exist ?

    The threat of strikes is simply extortion of the taxpayer.

  2. mammy's little soldier

    “The public need to realise that the role of public sector unions is to extract from taxpayers the highest possible price for the least possible number of hours worked. ”

    Well…er… are a bunch of people likely to get together and form and association in order to demand longer hours for less money?

    As it happens, I don’t see Unison members having any appetite for industrial action.

  3. But it’s alright for bwankers to stamp their feet and threaten to leave the country when things get a bit too ‘tough’ for them?


  4. Arnald – well, if the public sector employees were stamping their feet and leaving for the private sector, then it would be much more convincing that they were getting a poor deal, compared with their other options.

  5. ‘But it’s alright for bwankers to stamp their feet and threaten to leave the country when things get a bit too ‘tough’ for them?’

    Ooh, I see what you did there with ‘bankers’ and ‘wankers’. NNIIIICCCEEE. You win.

  6. Arsenald (thanks for the suggestion!), the same applies to both:

    If the bankers don’t like the terms and conditions (ie, too much tax) they are free to go somewhere else more to their liking. And most likely will.

    If the diversity coordinators and bin police don’t like the terms and conditions, they’re free to find something more to their liking in the private sector. And will probably just stand by their braziers and whine about how unfair it is that they are having to contribute to their own gold-plated pensions.

    The difference is, we need the bankers. Most of the public sector is only fit to be launched on the ‘B’ ark.

  7. Hmm. I don’t think DAdams would agree with you on that one. Penny to a pound he’d put the structured finance analysts on the B Ark, possibly with the diversity co-ordinators – but the teachers and postmen would be, erm, elsewhere.

    (I’m not gonna express a personal judgement on the assorted merits – a banking sector is required, but some aspects of banking are socially counterproductive. But given everything DAdams wrote and his cultural background, I don’t think you can cite him when defending bankers at the expense of public sector workers…)

  8. Tim,

    “…the deal you’re being offered is still vastly better than the ones that private sector workers get so you might not get as much public support as you think”

    If it’s acknowledged that the private sector gets a bum deal in comparison to the public, can either you or another reader please explain why it is so consistently bigged up by our government, to the extent that our only economic policy now seems to be the ideologically blind assertion that it will just suddenly grow and create jobs? An assertion which, incidentally, has never been shown to have come true once since Adam Smith published ‘The Wealth of Nations’?

  9. Martin, what exactly is it that you want to be shown? You appear to have at least 3 assertions or arguments or something, muddled up in your statement:
    1. That the private sector will suddenly grow and create jobs (what do you mean by suddenly?)
    2. Someone’s only economic policy now is making a single assertion (who precisely are you talking about? And what would you count as an economic policy versus a non-economic policy)
    3. The private sector is so bigged up (how are you measuring bigged up?)

    And what evidence could possibly convince you, of whatever point it is that you want to be shown true?

  10. TracyW,

    That’s a nice attempted obfuscation of my very simple point, but no cigar. If we were on ‘Just A Minute’, someone would have rung the bell by now. As I said, the point is simple. Please answer it.

  11. Martin, firstly, asserting that your point is very simple doesn’t make it so. It’s still the case that you’ve made about 3 separate points, or arguments, or something, none of them clearly defined.

    Secondly, I notice that you didn’t answer my question of what evidence could possibly convince you, of whatever point you want to be shown. So, let me see, you want to be shown something, but you can’t say what evidence could show you this?
    If you can’t say how you could be shown wrong, then your belief is non-rational and there’s no point in arguing about it. You may as well be asserting that there’s undetectable gremlins in orbit around Saturn.

  12. Martin,
    Tracy seems to have given up on the grounds that she cannot understand what you are asking.
    Based on my best guess, the answer is:
    i) The private sector gets a bum deal in respect of pensions compared to the public sector.
    ii) This is irrelevant to the desire to expand the private sector.
    iii) Economic growth is necessary if we want to pay for the stuff that we are now consuming, let alone the liabilities that are being stored up for the future of which unfunded and massively underfunded public sector pension schemes are just an egregious example.
    iv) The public sector provides some services but doesn’t *produce* anything
    v) So increases in production must come the private sector
    vi) While we wait for that to happen (and even you must admit that GDP is a bit higher than in Adam Smith’s time) we need to try to reduce wasted expenditure – such as the Inland Revenue writing to tell me that I owe it £0.00, planning officers proposing double yellow lines in the wrong place just to use up their departmental budget before the end of the financial year, requiring private firms in places like Skye and Houghton-le-Spring to report on the “diversity” of their workforce etc etc

  13. Thanks, John. Never had a demand for £0.00, although I did once have an overdue Council Tax demand for £0.01. I can assure you I’m not being deliberately obtuse when I say this but while I agree with the broad gist of your post, it still doesn’t explain why the private sector should be considered a more attractive emplyment option than the public – if I could get myself one of those cushy jobs with an underfunded pension, I’d be in there like a shot.

    On a general point, it seems to me that any jobs growth in the public sector is indicative of the failure of the private sector – that so much employment has had to have been made in it suggests that the actual amount of economic activity taking place in this country has been far lower for far longer than any of us might like to admit. I don’t think it’s the case that the private sector has to be boosted, it’s that it’s just not there, and the diversity, etc. commissars, while ideologicaly motivated and intent on social engineering, are for all practical purposes really just paper covering over the cracks. After all, if there were more attractive activity taking place in the private sector, they’d be doing that instead.

  14. John77, Martin’s question had overtones of an ideological assertion, rather than being an actual question. In these type of circumstances, I find it’s easy to be drawn into a continual moving-of-the-goalposts, where any evidence brought forward is dismissed on the basis that the change wasn’t sudden enough, or the proponents are not the people being talked about or whatever.

    So I find establishing clearly what’s being discussed, and what evidence the person you’re discussing it with could possibly convince them to change the minds is helpful. Of course, 90% of the time, when you ask someone “what evidence could possibly convince you?” they fail to answer the question, but that means that you can point out that their beliefs are based on evidence.

    Notice here that Martin again ignored my question of what evidence could possibly convince him, while “engaging” with you, where you didn’t ask him what evidence could convince him otherwise. This is a sign that his beliefs are non-rational. Not absolute definite proof, once on the Internet I asked the question “what evidence could possibly convince you?” twice and then got a reasonable reply, but my Bayesian probability assessment is pretty darn high on this one.

  15. @ Martin
    “why the private sector should be considered a more attractive emplyment option than the public”
    Points iv) and v) are the answer from Osborne’s viewpoint.
    Of course the viewpoint of the worker depends on whether he/she wants to work harder and earn more or have a cushy job with an underfunded pension.
    The jobs growth in the public sector has NOTHING to do with “the failure of the private sector” – it is the result of the deliberate policy of the Labour Party to expand the role of the state (and thereby increase the number of voters with a vested interest in the continuation of an outdated and comprehensively refuted politico-economic theory). The decline in private sector jobs is a consequence of Brown’s disastrous economic mismanagement – by ordering the BoE to limit inflation while he was running a highly inflationary fiscal policy, he forced them to keep the £sterling overvalued so it became cheaper to import goods from China – the other side of the world – than make them in Britain and as a result manufacturing employment fell *by over 40%* under New Labour. Of course it was worst in the industries affected by the introduction of the Minimum Wage – employment in textiles fell by over 80%.
    This is also the reason for our massive trade and balance-of-payments deficit and a significant contributor to the budget deficit as most of the one-and-a-half million who lost their jobs thanks to Brown’s would be earning and paying taxes instead of drawing benefits.

  16. @ Tracy W
    I thought Martin’s question as phrased didn’t make sense, so apologies for misinterpreting your silence.

  17. Tracy W, without wishing to mince words your answers have all the literary and intellectual merit of a malfunctioning printer vomiting out paper in the face of some poor unsuspecting Japanese. I’m going to read John’s reply to my second post in a moment, but up to now I can say that he got the point of my comment, even if it didn’t make sense to him, but you didn’t.

    BTW, I’m a churchgoing Catholic, and am happy to proclaim myself to be a creature of faith, and therefore completely non-ideological, and not one of reason. When we have occasionally butted heads, it’s because I have insisted on reason applying the same standards to itself to as it applies to faith. This is an attitude which would have cost me my head during ‘La Grande Terreur’. Thank God for God, and for the grace he gives us to be deaf to appeals to reason, that’s all I can say.


    I’ll come back to your comment at some point tomorrow – might be late. Stay tuned. As Tim will tell you, I am not the type to walk away from an argument, but even I need to sleep.

  18. John,

    Sorry I’m back a bit later than advertised; decided to treat myself to a night off.

    I’m afraid that your second comment doesn’t sit as well with me as the first. We could recite ideologically motivated interpretations of history at each other, as if we were conducting a theological disputation in the Middle Ages, from now until the cows come home. Yes, it’s Brown’s fault, OK. However, if it hadn’t been Brown’s fault, it would have been someone else’s. The problem I have is not with history, I like to read as much of it from as many different sources as I can. The problem, as I see it, is with economics itself.

    Having been a benefits claimant more than once during my life, it seems perfectly clear that every extension of the welfare state has arisen from a previous failure of economic policy. If capable of being observed, it wouldn’t surprise me if every other country with a welfare state exhibited the same pattern. The one constant of economic history is failure of economic policy. If economics doesn’t give you one type of failure, it is always more than ready to hand you another. Where any economic policy can be said to have been ‘successful’, it seems only to have been so at the expense of somebody’s property rights and/or civil liberties. I don’t have mch property, and both the current and immediately previous British governments and the current Scottish Executive seem to have, or have had, very little regard for civil liberties. This makes me fearful of the positive progniscations of economists.

    Reagan’s view that government has a tendency to grow is correct, but not wholly so, and not for the reasons he imagined. One of the reasons that it may grow is because the private sector is always so fragile that the public sector must exist as a counterweight to it, and not, as widely and foolishly believed, as a brake upon it. However, we seem so accustomed to the public presence of the priesthood of economists, and to their tedious, almost metronomic recitations of their incantations (witness the abandon with which economists use the word ‘rational’ to describe behaviours so empirically irrational that they remind one of Chesterton’s maxim that the madman cannot be said to have lost his reason, but has lost everything but his reason), that we have zoned off those parts of their brains capable of taking them and what they say with an appropriate lack of seriousness.

    In addition, the conceit that they are an intellectual elite is as infuriating as it is unjustified. No other science makes the demands upon the time, wellbeing and resources of the public as economics does. This makes me think it isn’t a science at all, but a pernicious system of competing philosophies, all of which share a common root; desire for personal gain, either your own or someone else’s.

    But if you’re an economist working for a bank, and thus in the business of helping to sell its products and services, I suppose it pays well.

  19. Martin, I notice you still can’t answer my question as to what evidence could possibly convince you, of whatever point it is that you want to be shown. Nor are you capable of answering questions about it actually is that you want to be shown.

    So let me see, you request to be shown something, but you can’t explain what you asked to be shown, and nor can you say what evidence could possibly convince you on that point. You may claim that you’re non-ideological, but I am confident that John77, or any other reader, now has sufficient evidence to draw their own conclusions.

  20. @ Martin
    I am not sure whether your problem is with economics itself or with economists. As a Protestant, I am not best-placed to lecture a Roman Catholic (we, like the Orthodox, believe that we belong to the Catholic Church) on theology but economics is merely the observation of one small part of the functioning of Creation so if you have a problem with economics then you need to resolve it.
    If you have a problem with economists, then I can sympathise, but I suspect from your comments that your problem is with politicians’ decisions.
    I never describe myself as an Economist, although I have had to pass some examinations in Economics, and rarely* work as one and never for a bank.
    My second comment is not actually an “ideologically motivated interpretations of history” so much as an observation of ideologically motivated history: it may shock Timmy and his friends that for more than a decade I and my siblings were criticising New Labour from what is deemed to be the left – myself because their policies were designed to make the poor poorer (and did – the share of national wealth owned by the poorer half of the population fell by *two-thirds* under New Labour before they ordered ONS to stop publishing the data following my denunciations – note I say “following”, there could have been another reason for hiding this), my sisters on their own areas of expertise such as the inhuman treatment of refugees fleeing persecution.
    You are entitled to your opinion that if “if it hadn’t been Brown’s fault, it would have been someone else’s.” I beg to differ: individuals can and do matter, compare the effects of Mugabe and Mandela. Southern Rhodesia was more prosperous with better race relations than South Africa even under Ian Smith and subject to sanctions let alone Welensky.
    You appear to have been conned into the Falangist view that the private sector is fragile and needs state support. If a private company goes bust, it goes bust whereas if a public sector entity goes bust the taxpayer has to bail it out. Nevertheless the private sector continues to grow and the public sector demands increasing subsidies. HBOS? Try reading the Lloyds Bank accounts where they report a windfall profit of £12 billion from “rescuing” HBOS i.e. HBOS was worth more than £12 billion more than they paid for it (and this figure is after Lloyds has kitchen-sinked HBOS’ assets: an unbiased number would be bigger). Dunfermline Building Society needed to be rescued but none of the private sector banks *needed* to be rescued – HM Treasury panicked after Robert Peston triggered a bank run on Northern Rock and demanded that the banks raise in one month more than the whole of UK plc had raised on the Stock Exchange from investors in the whole of the previous year.
    Most of the private sector would thrive if government limited itself to the minimum necessary in the public interest – stupid regulation (how about a company in Man or the Western Isles having to satisfy criteria of racial diversity when applying for any government contract?) cost tens of £billions. EU regulation alone (ignoring national regulation) is estimated to cost 3.5% of GDP across the whole EU. The burden of UK regulations are, of course, much greater in the UK: some are comparable to a whole year’s income for the sector regulated and I am still in shock from seeing that FSCS levied Charles Stanley one-quarter of its previous year’s profits in respect of the failure of a company in a different sector (their levy was too big for the investment intermediary sector so they levied a couple of hundred £million on the adjacent sector). No that is NOT fragile – could you personally pay for rebuilding your neighbour’s house if it burned down because his/her other neighbour lit a match ten minutes after switching on the gas?
    If you have had to survive temporarily on JSA you should have noticed that contribution-based JSA, for which we pay our NI contributions, is worth only a fraction of income-based JSA (for those who haven’t paid any contributions or who have spent more than they earned), which provides housing benefit (over £200 per week round here), council tax rebate, free school meals etc. so anyone who has prudently saved and is temporarily unemployed and has modest savings is rapidly impoverished.

    *never from choice – I have occasionally had a job dumped on me and realised part-way through that it was economics.

  21. TracyW,

    That’s as nice a denunciation as I’ve seen in a while. You’d have fitted right in – in the KGB.


    Economics may be a very small part of Creation – althogh I doubt it, for its conclusions are almost wholly synthetic, relying as they do on the suspension of disbelief for their power, which makes the grip economics has on otherwise intelligent minds quite frightening – but, as I said in my immediately preceding comment, it is far more demanding of the public’s time, patience and resources than any other science. That empirical observation alone makes me suspicious of its status as a science. I prefer to call it what it is, a syncretic cult.

    I do not place ‘blame’ for the mistakes of politicians anywhere other than where it deserves to be, which is upon the politicians, for believing in economics.

    Of course individuals matter, but so do circumstances. I am no expert on how the state of Zimbabwe came into existence, but in her most wonderful book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ (Tim, have I ever mentioned I’m quoted in it?), Naomi Klein records how the economy of post-apartheid South Africa was influenced by the operation of the ‘Washington Consensus’. Sanctity of contract was deemed absolute, meaning that the Rainbow Coalition was saddled with the pension liabilities of BOSS. In his book ‘Freedom Next Time’, John Pilger quotes George Soros as saying that ‘South Africa is in the grip on international capital’ (Davos, 1999). If memory serves – I was only a small boy at the time of Lancaster House, but we still watched the ‘Nine O’ Clock News’ – the state you described as ‘Southern Rhodesia’ was only known by that name at that time for a very short period. My only guide to the affairs of Rhodesia in the ’60’s has been the diaries of Richard Crossman, and while they are notoriously full of their author’s almost risibly self-serving bluster and braggadocio they do also indicate that no stop was pulled out in order to prevent UDI. Mugabe was the child of Smith just as much as he was the child of Marx; without Smith’s pigheadedness, Zimbabwe would never have had to suffer him.

    Thank you for reading banks’ annual reports for me, no really, I mean it. What you seem to be describing was a stampede not into the fire but the fire sale, led by HM Treasury – which is choc-a-bloc with economists all acting rationally.

    You write that “(m)ost of the private sector would thrive if government limited itself to the minimum necessary in the public interest”; the recent appearance of a ‘Cash Collectors’ on my town’s main street, and the proliferation of TV adverts offering to buy unwanted gold, shake my faith in this assertion. These have appeared after the banks were bailed out. I’m not being obtuse, but I don’t get the analogy you’re making from the example of Charles Stanley that you quote. OK, so some regulations are dud. Agreed. By the same token, so is some lack of regulation, such as offering half-million dollar mortgages to folks who were to all intents and purposes in domestic service – ‘from domestic service to domestic servitude’..hmm, that’s got a nice ring to it. I could not, of course, pay to rebuild my neighbour’s house, which is why I have communal buildings insurance for the tenement I live in. This requirement is, I believe, statutory in origin, and before I go to bed every night I pray that they don’t light up in the manner you suggested.

    And yes, in December 2002 I became a claimant of contribution based JSA (£53.80/week, if memory serves). It didn’t pay much, and what’s more I think that the first claim form I got was printed in Hindi. The act of doing so was also humiliating, made humiliating by the attitude of the staff. But that’s another story.

  22. @ Martin
    I am getting a long way off-topic but I should advise you against relying on the historical accuracy of the Crossman diaries. Ian Smith was elected because the white voters thought the previous Southern Rhodesian government was too soft in dealing with the black terrorist organisations (one was pro-Soviet and the other was Maoist) was in each of which in turn Mugabe was an active participant. So Ian Smith’s premiership could better be described as a *consequence* of Mugabe than as a cause. Without Mugabe and his fellow Russian- and Chinese-backed terrorists, Smith would have remained in opposition. A lot of people thought at the time that UDI was provoked by Harold Wilson but Crossman is hardly going to tell you that.

  23. John,

    My apologies for not being around last night – I was writing on my own blog. Oh, have no fear about my trust in the thoughts of Richard Crossman – his recollection of how he believed Harold Wilson had a special faith in his wisdom, stemming from a conversation he had with the Prime Minister while sitting on the end of Wilson’s bed, with Wilson still in it and feeding kippers to his cat, is a masterpiece of unintentional comic writing.

    As I said, I am no expert on the history of Rhodesia, so I’ll take your points.

    Kind regards,


  24. it still doesn’t explain why the private sector should be considered a more attractive emplyment option than the public – if I could get myself one of those cushy jobs with an underfunded pension,

    Anecdata alert …

    My public sector part time job pays me about 1/6 the day rate of my private sector full time job. If this _year_ had been next year, I would have earned about £950 in pension. To have earned the equivalent for the ftj, I would have had to put about £25k in to my pension pot*. To give you some concept of how odd that is, my current gross yearly income for the ptj is less than £15k.

    * My numbers may be wrong on this. Sourced from a quick google after a day bulling leather for tomorrow and drinking.

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