Strikes are a bad idea all round

Some public sector Union leaders want to use the “cuts” to trigger a massive Union campaign allied to strikes. When a public sector union goes on strike it is striking against itself and the public. Strikes usually make things worse all round. Strikes encourage people to find other ways of doing what ever the strikers used to do. Strikes usually result in more job losses, not fewer.

Whilst Union leaders and their active supporters are the main cause of strikes, some managements by their words and deeds give them help or cause. It is most important that the current government should not make it easy for the militants by using provocative or inaccurate language. Strikes this winter in public services are not a good idea for any of us.

The Unions say they will be running campaigns against 25% and 40% cuts. In a world where health spending will rise in real terms, and where I suspect education health spending will also be protected, there should be no cuts of 25% or 40% in anythign that matters. Overall, with spending rising by 15% in cash terms over 5 years, the question the government should be asking is a simnple one – can we use the extra 15% to maintain service levels and improve quality, or is all the 15% and more going to disappear in rising costs and inefficiencies?

A sensible management, armed with 15% more cash would seek to persuade the workforce that this settlement is fair, and can be accommodated without compulsory redundancies and with some pay improvements based perhaps on improved productivity. If the officials managing these services instead play political games and roll out long lists of provocative “cuts” which in the end will not be made, morale in the services will be damaged and the militants assisted.

It is a good test of senior officials to see if they have understood the mantra, “Do more for less”. The overall cash spending plans are generous in the circumstances. The endless rows about excessive or inappropriate cuts are far from helpful to anyone, causing some to worry about their jobs and others grasping the opportunity to go back to the old politics of the parade of the bleeding stumps. Surely the new politics of the Coalition can rise above this? Starting by setting out the true figures for increased current spending would help.

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41 Comments

  1. Thatcher-right
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Striking is self evidently breach of contract and so anyone striking should be a dismissed. That would soon thin down the unaffordable government payroll.

    • Fandango
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      I work in the NHS. The spin the new Government has put on real terms health funding rising – frankly – makes me sick. Until the reform of public sector pay deals is complete, then any notion that a real terms rise in funding will happen is an absolute fallacy, particularly when set against our demographics and rising demand. One of the biggest problems in the public sector are the hundreds, nay, thousands of over 50s who have spent their life in public service, who haven't 'got with the programme' and who are too expensive for organisations to get rid of. I work with some of them every day. They frustrate the hell out of me. But people like me are going to end up losing their jobs because of people like them, and that's why there still needs to be a right to strike. This is a whole system problem that this joke of a Government thinks can be tackled by just cutting jobs in the public sector, then disallowing those affected benefits and penalising those of us in the public sector who work bloody hard, who have innovative ideas and who never get a mention – but who are cheapest to get rid of because we've not been around since the inception of the NHS. I vote for strike. I've got no other option. And your Tory rhetoric makes me spit. You haven't got a clue; it's not that simple.

  2. Mike Wood
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Why is it that the private sector never has the argument over frontline vs back-office? I suspect because senior private sector leaders view the back office as the key agent of local change for the better; lower costs, improved service and higher profit. In the public sector people are getting bogged down in the argument of avoiding cutting the frontline services, too often this is equated with preserving frontline jobs which of course is not the same thing. How can we move to a situation where civil service middle management is more aligned with its private sector counterparts where they are seen as agents of change and not a roadblock to greater efficiency? This should be the key battle ground going forward not frontline vs bureaucracy.

  3. waramess
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I believe that job cuts are at the centre of their campaign and whilst there will be fringe issues that may grow disproportionately, they are concerned that the governments strategy of reducing headcount in the public sector will not result in those losses being minimised by hirings in the private sector.

    Whilst I am all for reducing the army of public sector workers I am also unable to see the governments logic.

    The minimum wage militates against wages falling to a point where a reduced cost of labour will have any material effect on the cost of production and the failure of the government to return to the private sector any of the resources saved, through the tax system, will have little effect on investment.

    Exports now play such a small part in our economy that a revival will hardly make a difference let alone spark a recovery

  4. waramess
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Continued

    Reducing the deficit will do nothing to stimulate the economy even though it may placate our lenders and whilst Osborne might decide on another bout of money printing and to give the benefit to the private sector directly through lower taxes, for the sake of my savings, I hope not.

    How then is this apparent magic of turning public sector workers into private sector workers to be achieved?

    I believe if there is no easy answer to this then the strikers might have the upper hand when it comes to public opinion.

    • Ray Veysey
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Did you even read what John Redwood wrote ?

      • waramess
        Posted September 14, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        several times

  5. StrongholdBarricades
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    How many strikes in the ublic sector would it take to solve the budget deficit?

    Savings in salaries etc?

  6. Mr R Coxs
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    It all depends on definition of bad all round ,4 u lot who thought once in power u could treat the poor,pensioners & disable like dirt just like in the thatcher years or us who always suffer when country in any kind of trouble the rich & banks got us in this big pile of S**t through sheer GREED and their not suffering at all and u don't want ue to do anything your a JOKE

    • marcus
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      If you can’t even write properly why on Earth do you expect anyone to take you seriously?

    • mjr
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Always nice to hear from the Great Unemployable.

    • Paul from MK UK
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

      It's pretty obvious that you are either a deficeit denier of do not understand the fundamentals. If you want to point the finger at anyone, you should start by pointing it at those who frittered away all the money. The rich were courted by Blair from day one and the banks, as John warned us more than once before the 'unforseen' catastrophe, were released from a well proven reliable system of control by a delusionary Brown within days of gaining office.

  7. Mark
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the BBC could be persuaded to explain these matters?

    Frankly, we need to divert half the license fee to a new competitor to the BBC. When it is established, the BBC can be left to wither on a commercially funded basis. There is no other way to remove the bias in that organisation.

  8. Billy Blofeld
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Strikes only benefit the Union leaders. (Named official) tops the league table of Union parasites.

  9. Idle Pen Pusher
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I hope they do strike, and I hope the strikes prompt the government to change the law so employers can sack those who go on strike.

  10. Robert George
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I agree John that Strikes are a bad idea but some I suspect are also necessary. The public sector workers have been on an ever growing gravy train for so long that they have developed a state of mind that taxpayers owe them a livlihood. In my own business in the UK I have been reducing staff numbers through natural attrition for nearly three years. We are now about 45% of our 2006 maximum. I have however noticed a most worrying trend: it has become almost impossible to win new work from the private sector as they have no discretionary capital to invest with us, however, business from the public sector has remained steady and even increased slightly.

    It seems to me that eventually there will be no recovery at all until this unbalance is corrected, the public sector is spending to much and depriving the private sector of capital both directly through regulation(of banks) and indirectly by spending on non productive work.

    I remember the miners strike under Thatcher, that was a necessary strike to destroy the old unionism. But those same attitudes were not destroyed in the civil service; bluntly John I believe that the government needs to pick a target one with an unpopular overpaid workforce and again bluntly, ruthlessly crush them. I regret to say so John but some lessons can only be learned the hard way and we may as well get on with it, " pour encourager les autres"

    • David in Kent
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Let's not forget that it was not just luck that allowed Thatcher to win the miners strike. She picked her fight carefully and the coalition must do the same.

  11. TAXPAYERS
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    You lot just want to walk all over us .
    You wont get away with that this time. The TUC has declared war.
    You are rich and you want to get richer at OUR expense.
    If you want to sort out this mess then TAX the rich like yourself and
    NOT the poorest in our society. You are arogant if you do anything else.

    WE want good public services not the privately run services.

    You lot cant even get your figures right so we dont trust you !

    • Henry
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Once upon a time, there were two college students, one Conservative, the other Labour, who used to ride past a house belonging to the chairman of a Blue-chip company and parked on the drive was a Rolls Royce. One day, the Conservative student said, "I'm going to work hard at college, so that one day I too will own a Rolls Royce" and the Labour student said, "I'm also going to work hard, so that one day I can make sure that rich b*st*rd has to ride a bicycle"!

  12. simon
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    The failure to claw back any of the bonuses paid on illusory profits , seize/freeze any of the assets of the directors of the banks or auditors is going to make it even more difficult to implement unnavoidable cuts .

    The super-rich need to recognise that they've been squeezing too hard for too long and must spread a bit of money around if they don't want the UK to degenerate into a country with civil unrest where they fear for their safety .

    How about a Government which is going to represent the populace , not do the bidding of the super-rich ?

  13. william
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Imagine that education ,health, environment, and home affairs were all run on the conglomerate model of the likes of BTR and Hanson in tthe 1980s.You would have 4 small head offices in London of about 200 people each to financially control the operations around the UK. County based police forces would go to be replaced by large regions. It is time to accept the fact that even the largest successful private sector companies no longer have work forces exceeding 250,000.

  14. Kevin Peat
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Is this just the public sector we are talking about ? Many conservative minded people in the private sector are unionised too and they are equally as angry about broken election promises, bankers' bonuses, politicians' expenses, welfare abuses … and being expected to foot the bill for it all through cuts, high interest on overdrafts and Revenue 'glitches.'

  15. Kevin Peat
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I can't afford to strike and in any case such things go against my cooperative nature. I am basically a unionised Conservative (big C) because I see how poorly non-unionised trades can be treated. For all of this disinclination to protest don't forget that there is fear and intimidation which drives a strike too. There are strike breakers from the '80s who are till reviled at my workplace – even people who joined the industry 20 years later treat them like dirt and are encouraged to do so. This all makes for an extremely difficult and unpleasant environment in which to spend your working life – especially as it looks likely to extend into one's seventies.

    It would make it a darn sight easier for me to cross a picket line in support of the Government if they hadn't already broken so many crucial promises to me and if I could see a worthwile goal at the end of it all.

    • StevenL
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      LOL, you don't have to cross any picket lines these days in la-la council land, you just arrange to 'work from home'.

  16. davidncl
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    The thing is.. we need cuts on the sort of scale that the unions are afraid of. 30/40 % or more. I suspect you know this John. So I'm not afraid of the strikes. I'm afraid of the lack of will to make real cuts.

  17. Brigham
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Just after WW2 my father said to me, just as the Attlee government came to power, "We can now make Britain a fair and prosperous society for all of us." A year later he said, "I was wrong, the working man will be the ruination of this country." I watched the "awful" Harriet Harman today. Not content with being a denier of the part Labour played in our financial ruin, she now wants to destroy the coalition, by damaging the recovery with strikes. What a bitter person she is!

    • Simon
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Harriet lost (the plot? ed) towards the end of the last administration if not before .

      She no longer understands what she's saying .

      If her colleagues cared an ounce about her or the country they would send her on a long rest rather than to spare themselves embarassment .

  18. david b
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    And which bit of "the country is bankrupt" do they not understand?

    I am not anti union. I believe they are necessary to protect workers from bad employers. And we all have a right to withdraw our labour.

    But how evil is the employer who tolerates the absenteeism levels of the state sector? How evil is the employer who just sticks the customers the bill for the pension shortfall with no risk of the customers refusing to pay? How evil is the employer who negotiates such good severance terms that 6 years pay is possible?

    They know the good times cannot go on forever. I don't blame them for wanting to resist the changes to the particularly good terms their members get from their evil employer. But our country is bankrupt, and they are part of the problem.

    I just hope the government has the balls to fix this. And I am not sure winter is the best time to fight, however necessary.

  19. P Haynes
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    "Do more for less" well perhaps, but first stop doing the huge number of things government does that are pointless, anticompetitive or worse still positively destructive to the UK economy.

    About half of government activity comes under these categories.

    All government propaganda, much of the BBC output and any government activity with the words renewable, sustainable, discrimination, rights or equality in them might be a good first step.

    • EJT
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      "first stop doing the huge number of things government does that are pointless"

      Agree 100%. This point must be made and made again until it sinks in. Otherwise, the PS will cut the front line first, with a "parade of the bleeding stumps" to use the phrase that Mr. Redwood flagged a while back.

  20. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    ‘Doing more for less’ is still a very good summary of what it’s all about and we should see and hear it used more often as it's difficult to argue against.

    The use of temperate language we agree is essential despite the provocation of vocal union advocates. Francis Maude at least seems to be doing that and your own explanation of the real ‘15% increase’ also seems to be gaining traction.

    When it comes to letting property to avoid ‘voids’ we are often struck by how difficult it is to recover a week of lost landlady rent and therefore always prefer to compromise and settle for less.
    The same would apply to strikers and lost wages and the wives would readily understand the same principle if not the macho men themselves!

    CONTINUED BELOW

  21. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    CONTINUED FROM ABOVE

    Incidentally all the papers today have reflected our own Saturday comments on Mr Hartnett's HMRC 'Money Box' interview. One of the daily suggested that instead of dismissing and making big redundancy payments to under-performing public servants they should be demoted to the ranks and their salaries reduced accordingly.
    Is this legally possible because if so it opens up a whole new ball game?

  22. Yorkie Boy
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    The government should lay it on the line:

    Any strike on London transport and all government funding for Crossrail is cancelled. With further cutbacks to follow until the unions get the message.

    Ditto for strikes in other sectors as well.

    It is far too easy for public sctor unions to organise strikes without suffering the consequence.

    That's why you don't get private sector strikes – except in former public sector companies like BA – the workers know that they are damaging their own interests.

  23. DBC Reed
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood makes some sensible and helpful statements, but the Coalition has deliberately spread so much alarm over cuts and induced so much public sector/ private sector bitterness that it is too late now .He must realise that his One Nation Tory pleas not to exaggerate the effects of the cuts have fallen on deaf ears,only serving to make some rather feeble ministers more determined to appear macho.
    As for popular opinion: Thatcher could get away with attacking the unions because the totally deceptive notion had taken root that inflation was caused by
    union wage demands ("white as the driven snow "said Enoch Powell) : this time everybody is convinced that the bankers are responsible for the present mess.If the unions play this card it could be curtains for the Coalition.

    • Mark
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      It is not the banks that have run up the government debt and left government spending levels far in excess of achievable tax revenues, it was the Labour government. Little wheezes such as trying to cram a century's worth of new school building into a decade while knocking down serviceable schools, or pay out £100,000 per year to house a single family.

      Bankers simply enabled people (including themselves) to spend beyond their means on flash cars and foreign holidays by pretending that houses were a bottomless pit of money.

  24. Ray Veysey
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    As on other sites dealing with this question people seem to be missing the point, this is not about jobs,working conditions or the poor, this is about political change, this about forcing a change of government as tried by Scargill in the 80's. do you really think that Crow or Serwotka give a toss about the man in the street,(personal remarks removed ed)

    • waramess
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Clearly this is your take on the blog. Just because several unions look to make a fuss does not mean they will be able to drag their members to the party. You clearly remember Scargill and look what happened when he tried to do so.Split the coal union in two.

      Consider for a moment that unions will only win over their members if they have a real grievance and in this instance it will be about job losses.

      This is something the government will be forced to address and so far it has not presented a credible case for anything other than increased unemployment, if the job losss talked about are correct, since it has failed to explain how the public sector might replace the job losses in the private sector.

      JR thinks it can cover the issue by 'fessing up to what appear to be the true scale of the cuts which it would seem are very small, but to leave a disclosure of this magnitude so late in the day risks both a credibility problem and a massive gap in strategy for sorting out the deficit.

  25. Javelin
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I read the BBC plan to strike during the Tory conference and the public spending reduction announcements – I presume with the intention of not allowing the Government to tell the public about the true state of the economy.

    As I have said before when Thatcher came to power the BBC unions even killed a Dr Who series off through striking. The Tories really need to get a grip of the BBC news and it's left wing bias, they are a threat to the national economy.

    Moving to Salford is an opportunity to reduce the workforce and find a more constructive organisation with a more positive workforce who do believe that Government spending is the answer to our ills.

    The Torys will find it a lot harder to improve the nation with the Morning Star being broadcast free into every home through multiple news programmes.

  26. HJ777
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    John Redwood is perhaps forgetting that the fast-rising cost of servicing the national debt will reduce the amount available to spend on services. So even if government spending isn't cut, the amount available to spend on services will reduce.

    The government should be out there pointing out that if it doesn't cut now, then future governments will have to cut even harder because of the debt servicing costs. Why isn't it giving people the numbers on this?

  27. Richard
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    The question is, will the coaltion hold together and survive the intense pressure and unpopularity it is going to face as the anti-cuts lobby mount their campaign of strikes, marches, protests and propaganda?

    There are currently many Quangos and Councils threatening to cut front line staff in what I feel is a deliberate and cynical move to rouse their staff and their Unions against the cuts.

    For example, this week Birmingham Council has given redundancy warnings to over 20,000 staff stating that they are all in danger of losing their jobs and we have also heard this week of Police Chiefs threatening to sack thousands of PC's whilst other Police Chiefs simultaneously warn that there will be rioting and civil unrest because of the cuts and they won't have enough PC's left to cope.

    There is never any mention of cuts in adminstration costs or of cuts in managerial staff or of efficiencies being made in these organisations. The cutting is going straight down the hierarchy to the front line staff.

  28. John Wrexham
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    In many sections of local government, we have been delivering more for less for several years as money has been continually redirected to that bottomless pit, known to some as our education system.

    The biggest obstacle to local government delivering more for less is the deadwood at the top. it is not obvious what they really do, but they give the rest of us a bad name by demanding the pay and perks of the private sector and the anonymity and unaccountability of the quango state.

    like many others, i wish to avoid going on strike because i have to catch up on the work i couldn't do, in my own time. in fact, bizarrely, i do deliver more for less whenever i am called out on strike.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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