Thursday, 1 December 2011

That 70s show

In the 1970s, contrary to popular belief, trade unions saved Britain. Yeah, I know, you've been told about the 'Winter of Discontent' when 'Councils couldn't bury their dead', plans were being made for mass burials at sea, and rats the size of cats were running happily across the rubbish mountains building up in every city square.

What's usually excluded from this analysis is what happened before. Inflation was running at 26.9% in 1975. It was eventually brought under control through a series of negotiated sub-inflation pay deals, with unions accepting effective pay cuts over several years to bring the crisis to an end. The Winter of Discontent came about whern the government tried to bully the unions into accepting 5% - effectively continuing to cut wages when the crisis was over. Obduracy by the government, not the unions, brought about the crisis.

George Osbourne and David Cameron should be more sensitive to history before crowing about the protests and strikes being a 'damp squib'. By imposing a 1% pay ceiling on long sufferring public servants, they may be repeating the mistakes of the Callaghan government. The paralells are intruiging - a minority government propped up by the Liberals, the Scots getting restive, an international depression, turmoil in the Middle East jeopardising oil supply, a 'socialist' in the White House ...

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Theresa May: Going, Going ...

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