Recently I did a piece here on the so-called brain drain that is affecting the UK at the moment. I made comparisons to the last big wave of emigration from malaise-addled Britain in the 1970s. Space constraints prevented me from pointing out a few more similarities.
The most obvious one is the market malaise in the UK. The country is suffering from stagflation, where prices are soaring but wages aren’t for most — unless, of course, you are a member of Parliament or a civil servant.
The unions have begun to realize that their members are suffering and trying to get on the same deal as other civil servants who are getting pay deals over the “official” rate of inflation, which is 3%. These union heads know that the actual inflation, if you include all costs, is more like 8%. Despite pleas from the chancellor of the Exchequer and the prime minister, wage demands are attempting to reflect true inflation.
Recently tanker drivers struck because they were not given a 13% rise on their sub-£40k salary. Yes, tanker drivers in the UK are being paid almost $100k a year. They held large parts of the UK to ransom while they got this deal out of their employees. This sets a very bad precedent for the rest of these sort of negotiations.
Other unions, including that for refuse collection, have voted to strike this summer. And other unions are threatening a summer/autumn of “action.” Those of us old enough to remember the UK at its nadir in the 70s remember piles of rubbish in Leicester Square, London, because of the strike by council refuse workers. They are threatening a repeat performance unless they get a proper pay deal. In fact over 800,000 council workers are set to strike.
As a limited government type, it is always welcome to see council workers not doing their job of meddling in people’s lives and basically holding things up. However, scenes of piles of rubbish around will not exactly inspire confidence in the UK. It is not like they have to work hard. Many councils are even threatening to collect rubbish from householders once a month to force them to recycle.
Other government employees are getting bolshy, including the aptly named teacher’s union, the NUT. They are trying to get more money out of the government and threatening strikes in the autumn. Pleas from the Labour government, which is considered friendly to unions, are falling on deaf ears.
It is the case that unions see weakness in a Labour government and try to use it to their benefit. They like a Labour prime minister with his back to the wall, as Gordon Brown is right now, as a chance to get the maximum out of “their government.” It is being said they are holding Brown to ransom over laws they don’t like or want. His party is in a dire financial situation and need the unions’ deep pockets to bail them out before the next election. The unions are determined to make him pay for their bailing them out. Actually they want everyone to pay for their help — whether it be because of inflation, higher central or local taxation, or the bother of dealing with normal daily life while they are out striking.
What does this mean for the rest of the country? Lots of strikes, inconvenience, and bother. When the unions get what they want it will drive up inflation as well as making things even more expensive. The unions are doing their best to drive the UK into recession, if it is not in one yet. Gordon Brown and his chancellor look set for a rough summer and autumn. Stagflation is what everyone is worried about and it seems to be a reality in 2008. The credit crunch and cooling property market, which Brown wants cooled, are not helping either.
Of course, there is chatter that he won’t make it past the end of this year in his position. This chatter is getting louder as Gordon Brown is seeing his poll ratings lower than President Bush in the U.S. and even the American Congress. The recently further enriched, via a large pay raise, Labour MPs are getting restless and worrying about their perks. In fact many pushed for the pay increase before the fall in case of a post-party conference season snap election and they lose their seats (their pay determines their pension when the public fires them).
Despite the efforts of Margaret Thatcher — who is still being blamed for Labour’s problems, I might add — the Labour government is doing its best to return the UK to the state it was in during the 70s. The only question is whether or not David Cameron, the Conservative leader, is the man to turn the country around when he gets into power.