Thursday, June 30 2011
For both sides in today's strike action, there are two separate battles. One is the argument over the issue which is causing schools to close and disruption elsewhere - namely cuts in the public pension.
The second battle is the "hearts and minds" one: winning the PR battle. The jury is out on that with all the polls suggesting the public is fairly evenly split, with support for the government and support for the strikers about 50/50.
Which explains why both are treading rather carefully and avoiding the kind of provocative language and brinkmanship that sometimes characterise industrial disputes.
Both recognise they risk forfeiting public sympathy if they escalate their language and adopt rather more macho positions. The government is conscious that there remains a large groundswell of support for the view that the national deficit and economic crisis had its roots in the reckless practices of the banks and many still believe that no-one has really paid much of a price - indeed any price at all - for this.
So the unions are enjoying perhaps more sympathy than they otherwise might have because their message that the pain is being inflicted in the wrong place has some measure of support.
On the other hand, those employed in the private sector are pointing out that despite the recession public sector workers continue to enjoy more generous pensions than many.
The real test of public opinion - and sympathy - will come if there are more strikes and more disruption. Parents may tolerate the inconvenience of making hasty child care arrangements for one day but not if it happens on a weekly basis. The same goes for holiday-makers facing queues at passport desks.
Who will blink first?
A good line from Kent NUT rep John Walder responding to the claim that it is wrong to disrupt children's education by striking. "There was a decision to take a day off for the Royal Wedding and I don't recall a big outburst about that harming children's education."
Monday, September 13 2010
Hearing trade unions leaders at the TUC conference was a frightening reminder of the dark days of the 1970s.
It had all the echoes of the three-day week, the Winter of Discontent, Arthur Scargill and other horrors that plunged the nation into doom and gloom.
It was a far more "darker, brutish and frightening place" in those dismal days than it could ever be now, despite the apocalyptic warning by Brendan Barber.
Well done to the Balpa chief for injecting the only note of sanity into a tribal rant by the band of brothers.
Sure, the Government has handed union rabble-rousers an open goal with its continual harping on about draconian cuts.
They should have been a lot more subtle. They have given the impression that cutting spending is their only goal whereas they should be stressing the need for sensible spending, increasing it in some areas where the payback is substantial or where fairness to the vulnerable is concerned.
Tax and public spending went too far under the last Government and has to be reined back. It would have been better PR for the new union barons to have tempered their anti-Government tirade with recognition that the nation cannot go on spending beyond its means for ever.
The public sector has been protected for too long. It is time it shared some of the suffering felt across the private sector. And public spending does not of itself buy civilisation as the union leaders claim because you cannot trust the recipients of our cash to spend it wisely.
Sensible spending is what we need, and with the nation's economy in such a parlous state, we need to cut our cloth accordingly. Threatening massive disruption, and carrying it out, will surely lead to far greater economic and social crisis.