Saturday, 23 October 2010

Strike me pink!

As the more sensible match in the Swan Vestas factory said to its more militant colleague: "If we strike we've had it!"

The subject of whether strike action (or inaction!) should be permitted in essentially lines of work is in the news after almost a complete absence for many years, owing to the current threats in response to the so-called "public spending cuts". As we all know by now, they are nothing of the kind, but are a reform of many public services and a slowing down of the expansion of state spending.

However, should strikes be banned in some areas not currently covered in UK rules and/or legislation?

Iain Dale has today taken a very reasonable and well-informed look at this topic, including the international conventions to which we are one of the signatory nations. It is very interesting, actually, and I suspect very few people are aware of the oddities in them, including what is or isn't considered an "essential" service.

It is instructive to look at the record by region of number of days per employee lost through strikes for a year. The Office for National Statistics has these figures for 2008, and I reproduce them here in order of decreasing number, i.e. the biggest striking region first:
  • 60 - Scotland
  • 54 - North-East England
  • 48 - Wales
  • 38 - North-West England
  • 24 - Yorkshire and the Humber
  • 22 - West Midlands
  • 17 - East Midlands
  • 13 - London
  • 12 - South-West England
  •  7  - East of England
  •  7  - South-East of England
  •  4  - Northern Ireland
So, what can we deduce from this? It seems that the regions most heavily dependant upon public sector employment are the greatest strikers by a long way. Interestingly, these are also the parts of the UK that have the greatest need for more jobs to be provided.

As Burning Our Money reports, using the same information in graph form (though not in any hierarchical order), this track record is hardly likely to attract inward investment to those regions, who are the places that could do with it most of all. Yet again we see how militant public sector Unions actually do "the workers" the most harm, rather than being beneficial.

Those of us around in the '70s and '80s will well recall what Unions in general did then, especially but not only in the public sector, and what came out of that as a result. Lefties tried (and still try) to blame it all on Mrs Thatcher; but most of the job losses were a consequence of the way the Unions behaved, as has been very well written up by many far more expert in the field than I.

All one has to do is to imagine how it would have been for then current and potential employers to see why those parts of Britain went the way they did at that time. It's not difficult to work out; and of course we can (with a little research) watch what happens in other countries when similar circumstances arise, for comparison.

In the final analysis, cause-and-effect are broadly at play in such situations, and usually there is little if anything that can be done once a region gains a reputation for being apparently "difficult" and liable to down tools at the slightest provocation. That might be an exaggeration, but it is how a potential investor sees it, and will generally go elsewhere, not necessarily even in this country at all.

We are in a competitive market for real (i.e. directly wealth-generating) jobs, and we all have to face up to that fact of life. Even Labour-supporting entrepreneurs operate on the same principles as everyone else (Alan Sugar, anyone?) so don't be fooled into thinking they are at all interested in a strike-happy workforce - they are not!

Thus we must all make ourselves, singly and collectively, attractive to those who are the only people and organisations capable of providing genuine jobs that put money into the nation's economy, as distinct from those that are paid out of the public purse, which are not. There will always be legitimate reasons for having a public sector, but it is now so bloated that it needs to be severely cut back over the coming years.

It will take time to do; but eventually it really should end up just a tint fraction of its present size. Instead of several millions of direct (and a couple or so million indirect) publicly-paid for employees, the total size ought to be no more than a few hundred thousand by the end of this coming decade. I bet it won't be achieved; but if it's well on the way and the voting public understand and can share in the resultant benefit, then the trend will be both established and broadly accepted and can continue as long as is necessary.

Last week's Comprehensive Spending Review, for all its apparent faults, was the first step this country in the right direction has seen for a very long time. We all need to support what is being done done, and to expect more of the same in the annual Budgets and other future spending reviews.

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