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Mick Temple's Blog



This week's two-day strike by Council workers evoked memories of the long sideburns of the '70s for Mick Temple. But, he argues, that was then and this is now...

Unison and Unite might have lovely 21st century brands, but it seems they’ve gone back to the 1970s. No, they haven’t sprouted Malcolm Macdonald sideburns or bought the collected works of Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots.

By calling national strikes, they’re reminding us of the era of beer and sandwiches at Number Ten, when Labour prime ministers genuflected to Len Murray and company.

Sorry, but those tactics won’t work any more.

Let’s get one thing clear. I’m on the side of the low-paid, and many public servants are ill-rewarded for their essential work. University lecturers, just to pluck one job randomly out of the ether, deserve considerable pay rises.

But is strike action still the way to negotiate?

The British have become used to living in an almost strike-free land. Many of us remember the Winter of Discontent in 1978/79 that destroyed Jim Callaghan’s Labour government.

Strike action by public service workers was instrumental in ushering in a Conservative government that blitzed trade union rights and destroyed even the most powerful trade unions.

The world has moved on. Trade union membership has declined and there is little public sympathy for strikers. Indeed, if the letters’ pages of local papers are to be believed there is widespread opposition to Unison’s actions.

Parents who have taken two days off work to look after their children and those whose rubbish bins remained uncollected may not feel solidarity but merely resentment that services they have already paid for are not being provided.

And those at JCB and in the building industry who have just lost their jobs are unlikely to worry about the plight of those in relatively secure employment.

The comments of many union leaders indicate they have failed to recognise a fundamental shift in society.  We now see ourselves as customers of public services, not grateful recipients of government largesse.

The strike leaders believe that unified action will make government change its mind but, unlike tanker drivers, our public servants lack economic clout.

With recession looming, inflation increasing and many other groups also dissatisfied with their pay, it is difficult to see even Gordon Brown’s weak government allowing public service workers to raise the bar for future wage claims.

And there are plenty of workers ahead of council employees in the public sympathy stakes. For example, nurses, restaurant workers who have to rely on tips to get the minimum wage, premiership footballers and office cleaners (spot the cuckoo in the nest) all deserve more money.

But after thirty years of Thatcher and New Labour, have we all become too selfish to man the barricades for the less well-off? Perhaps there really is no such thing as society …


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