Trade unions are a force for good, says MP Simon Hoare, but the issues get sticky. And dealing with inflation leads to some tough political love
As Gloucester put it in Richard lll, it does feel rather that ‘now is the winter of our discontent’. The spectre and presence of strikes have once again reared their heads and are having profound, negative effects on many people across the country. The term Winter of Discontent was first used in a UK political context to describe the strike-laden days of 1978/79. I do not believe that those of 2022/23 are anything like as momentous or ‘weather-making’ from a political perspective.
Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of Dorset’s history will know the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The role that Trade Unions play, representing their members, championing workplace safety and rights, is a vital and important one. Prior to their creation, the life of the working man and woman was precarious, subject to the whims of the employer. Huge and beneficial strides have been made from which all of us in work, whether we are members of a Trade Union or not, benefit. Statutory sick pay, paid holiday and the like all came about directly through the lobbying of trade unions.
However, it is the right to withdraw labour below a certain public service level that is the sticky issue. Our police, military and prison officers are unable to strike because to do so would, among other things, jeopardise public safety.
Should we now be thinking about a similar caveat for other vital public services, for example in the health and transport sectors? I do not have a doctrinal view on this but rather I am committed to public service and people being able to go about their daily business, be educated, commute or receive healthcare irrespective of whether there is an employee/employer dispute going on.
Monster vs. chocolate
One of the concerns of many strikers is pay. Inflation, as we know, is higher than for very many years (it perhaps looks to have peaked and is now falling) and interest rates are moving upwards – although still historically low – as a way of addressing those upward inflationary pressures.
We often talk of inflation without really thinking about its affect. I was asked about this on a recent school visit and provided the following analogy: you have a chocolate bar at playtime, you expect to eat it all and to enjoy it. But! Along comes the Inflation Monster who swallows a great chunk of it. You lose out.
You may then buy a larger chocolate bar but the Monster only comes back to take a slightly bigger chunk. No matter what you do the Monster always wins. The Monster always comes back. He never really goes away.
You only have a chance of enjoying your chocolate bar if we ‘starve’ and defeat the Monster. We need to starve and cage, rather than feed, the inflation monster. Inflation-busting pay increases do not bust inflation, they feed it, adding fuel and stoking the rates higher.
Anyone in current public life knows this is not an easy message to communicate or accept. It is the political economy version of tough love. Unless we beat inflation everything else will be in vain, so that is currently the central and all-focussing task of the Government. It is not easy, but it is necessary.
Get in touch
Throughout this year I will continue my regular Advice Surgeries to provide help and support for those who need it. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
May I close this first column of the year by wishing everyone across North Dorset a belated but sincere happy, peaceful and safe 2023.