“the time has been, that when the brains were out, the man would die, and there an end; but now they rise again, with twenty mortal murders on their crowns, and push us from our stools.” ‘William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act III, Scene ii
The history of post-World War II Britain, is one of periodic disruptive uprisings of the public sector unions against governments elected by democratic majorities. These uprisings have nothing whatsoever to do with countervailing the power of dominant capitalist corporations. For, by definition, these public sector unions foment unrest within the socialist sector of the British economy. Rather public sector union leaders foment unrest and disruption either to eliminate democracy in favor of some communist Utopia or, more generally, to hold-up the rest of society in order to redistribute wealth coercively into the pockets of their members.
In 1974, when public sector union power was at its peak, following the socialism of Clement Attlee’s two Labour governments, and when the legal system was significantly tilted in its favor, the public sector unions toppled a democratically-elected government. Edward Heath’s Conservative government was forced into an early re-election by crippling energy strikes led by the National Union of Mineworkers early in 1974, and then was defeated as a fearful electorate chose winter warmth over good governance.
In 1979, the public sector unions rose again, this time against the Labour Government of James Callaghan, claiming that the government had reneged on a ‘social contract’ imposed upon it by union power. In a Winter of Discontent, even the grave diggers refused to inter the dead as an act of solidarity that demonstrated the lowest depravity of mankind. Prime Minister Callaghan begged for mercy: ‘My government prostrates itself before you!” No mercy was forthcoming; and even the bovine British electorate found enough steel in its spine to empower Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to ‘put some stick about’.
And Thatcher surely put that stick about, crushing the Marxist-led National Union of Mineworkers in a long drawn-out battle prepared for in 1983 and waged throughout 1984. Arthur Scargill, the Marxist brains behind the public sector unions, was wiped out by the Iron Lady, whose government then withdrew subsidies to coal-mining and ruthlessly reduced the NUM to one-tenth of its 1984 size.
Britain – until then the sick man of Europe - subsequently reimposed its economic dominance over the European Union and the Union Flag, once again, flew proudly from many mastheads. With Scargill hiding in disgrace, the brains were out; and that should have been the end of public sector union recklessness in a functioning democracy.
Alas! As Macbeth found to his own distress, the end is never secure, even when the key enemy has been publicly castrated. The admirable British Coalition government, that is currently dealing with Britain’s debt crisis in a manner that President Obama is too cowardly even to try to emulate, is now under threat again from strike action on the part of Britain’s public sector unions.
Organized now by leaders far less charismatic than Arthur Scargill, these unions are striking and fomenting unrest exclusively for reasons of rent protection. With wages well above those for equivalent skills in the private sector, with job security that does not remotely exist in the private sector, and with index-linked pensions that are the envy of the private sector, these greedy and selfish public sector workers are hell-bent on destroying the courageous attempt of their elected government to eliminate a dangerous structural imbalance in the nation’s budget.
The Coalition government has worked effectively to protect the less well-off public sector workers from the harshest consequences of budgetary reform. They are moving slowly in order to allow those affected to adjust. Retirement ages will rise from 65 to 67 over a lengthy period of time. Required pension contributions will average only 3.2 per cent of wages. Wage freezes, rather than nominal wage reductions, will be the instrument of relative wage adjustment.
The evidence from yesterday’s public sector strike is that the public sector unions, once again, have misjudged the nation’ mood. The Government is standing firm, and marshalling volunteers to dampen the edges of disruption. The law no longer – thanks to Thatcher – tilts in favor of the unions. This new Winter of Discontent seems set fair to eliminate the final vestiges of public sector union power in Britain. This time, the brains will not rise again, and the British government will be strengthened by this failed attack on its constitutional legitimacy.
If so, the Union Flag will fly yet higher, and Britain’s economic domination of Europe will advance yet further as the euro-zone stumbles from crisis to yet greater crisis.