Pointless public sector strikes show union dishonesty

Every sane observer knows the retirement age needs to be raised in response to greater longevity. Labour needs to be bolder in bringing union militants to heel.

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Dated and ineffective: The unions' strike approach
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The Commentator
On 30 June 2011 08:47

At least King Canute only got his own feet wet. The commencement of public sector strike action across the UK last night will hit hundreds of thousands of parents, travellers, and ordinary people just going about their daily business.

And for what? Because dishonest trade union leaders would rather flex their muscles against a Conservative-led government rather than speak openly to their members about the implications for pensions of greater longevity and the need to bring the public finances back to something approaching normality.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, described the government’s eminently sensible drive to raise the retirement age and ask people already subsidised by the taxpayer to contribute a little more to their pensions as "essential", adding, in remarks quoted by the BBC:

“The private sector has had to wake up to the tough realities of pension provision in a rapidly changing world, and the public sector must do the same.

"If the UK is perceived as a country where we have a lot of public sector strikes, then I think investor confidence, perhaps in putting new business into the UK, could be hit."

Quite so. But the unions, as ever, are only concerned with advancing their political agendas, and protecting the narrow interests (and even then, only in the short-term) of their members. The wider national interest can go hang.

As Harry Cole, our UK politics editor, said in his analysis of Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, the Labour leadership for its part is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, they know that pension reforms are inevitable and that strikes are unpopular. On the other, the unions are their paymasters and they can’t afford (literally) to alienate them.

It’s a sorry state of affairs, and it could get worse. Unions from a whole range of sectors have threatened Greek-style mass protests throughout the summer.

Paradoxically, recent polling evidence suggests union members themselves appear less and less supportive of threats of a general strike and are more and more concerned about the growing resurgence of the hard Left on union policy.

What is now necessary is for the Labour leadership to speak up on behalf of those disenchanted members and be far more bold than hitherto in slapping down militant union leaders.

We have long accused Ed Miliband of spineless opportunism, and of basing his political agenda on nothing more noble than social populism.

Let him prove us wrong. The national interest demands it.

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