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Industrial Relations – Part Deux

June 17th, 2011 Posted in coalition, Industrial Relations by

My last contribution on industrial relations law didn’t go down well in some quarters. C’est la vie.

However, it couldn’t escape my notice that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander had some pretty strong words for the trade unions and the inescapable nature of public sector pension reform today. Although he did not call for minimum turnouts for strike ballots, a few snippets of an article he penned for a newspaper ahead of his key speech to the IPPR are worth highlighting:

It is unjustifiable that the taxpayer should work longer and pay more tax so that public sector workers can retire earlier and get more than them…There is an indisputable case for reforming public sector pensions. They must be affordable, not just now but in the decades to come; and reform must be sustainable and correct the huge unfairness on the taxpayer and on low-earning public sector workers…

But particularly relevant to what I said yesterday:

It is disappointing that a minority of unions seem hell-bent on premature strike action…They are misrepresenting the Government’s position and feeding their members scare stories…

A strike now might be in the interests of the union’s boss, but it is not in the interests of its members. Only one in five members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union voted on Wednesday for strike action – the vast majority realise that such a step is unjustifiable. My message is: don’t let the union bosses sacrifice your pension for their political ends.”

I welcomed Alexander’s resoluteness in seeing reform through, painful as it may be, especially in light of some of the Coalition’s recent U-turns on policy. Whilst the calls for retreat are likely to grow even louder, change is desperately needed and it is in the long-term national interest to see things through.

Reading his piece, I was reminded of what Hal Varian, the Chief Economist at Google, said a few months ago on a similar issue, “Unions have the same problem that democratic governments have: they have a tendency to sacrifice the well-being of future generations relative to current generations, since only the current generation is able to vote.”

Let’s just hope that Alexander lives up to his words. Luckily, I believe he is imbued with the same qualities as Scotland’s other national drink – he’s made in Scotland from girders.

One Response to “Industrial Relations – Part Deux”

  1. Mark Valladares Says:


    Only one point spoils a perfectly legitimate argument, regardless of whether I support it or not. However, you appear to have been sucked in by a rather lazy assumption by Danny.

    Neither he, nor I, nor you, know how the missing 68% view the call to strike action. One might reasonably assume that if they felt that a strike would be unjustifiable, they might have expressed that through the casting of a ballot paper. But they didn’t, and until someone polls them, we’ll have no way of knowing.