Foreign readers may not have noticed, but the UK has recently been plagued by a series of labour disputes, resulting in a chronic series of strikes and other actions. Whether public or private sector, all tend to occur in heavily “public-facing” sectors like railways, healthcare, law and education. LSS is not going to get involved in the rights and wrongs. Feelings in such matters always run high, and each side will have its case to put. But we might consider the long term consequences of a particular action by the British Government,as we think it might have wider implications.
For this Government has introduced legislation which will effectively emasculate the right to withdraw labour across a wide variety of these sectors On the face of it, it’s an attractive idea. It will be popular with much of the public, many of whom are seriously inconvenienced when people like nurses or railway workers strike. The Government claims that similar legislation exists in certain European countries, which guarantees minimum service levels. And removing the bargaining power of large groups of workers could in theory effectively reduce the levels of pay inflation. What’s not to like?
Our doubts start with the last point. Yes, this legislation may well crush pay levels for nurses, dragging them down further in ancillary professions like health care, social work and housing. But what are the consequences of creating a vast, impoverished network of overworked, usually female, wage-slaves? The long term effects of chronic poverty are well known: low efficiency, low productivity and poor educational outcomes, which is passed on down the generations. There is little incentive to invest in new technologies, such as robotics and AI. Britain will drift further back technologically, and therefore culturally. This has happened before: the late nineteenth century saw low wage, low investment Britain fall behind its competitors in key sectors like metallurgy, textiles and shipbuilding. A poor hungry proletariat is not the raw material from which future progress may be forged.
The American writer Gore Vidal once observed that “England’s problems stem from an ancient, unsolved class war.” That war has not gone away, and continued efforts to fight it will result in continued bad outcomes. For both sides.
#trades unions #uk government #nurses #low pay #railways #strikes #class war #gore vidal