Some sections of the Tory press are having a field day predicting a Summer of Discontent – such as the Daily Mail on its front cover today. Newsnight was at it too yesterday night but I think parallels with 1979 are lazy journalistic cliche to be honest.
We do not inhabit times of industrial strife. Strikes these days get reported because they are so unusual. Labour editors on newspapers are an almost dodo-like extinct category. There are fewer unions which are bigger in size and exist as much for member services (discounted motor insurance, cheap holidays even in case of Unison’s Croyde Bay) as helping members fight disciplinaries. The GMB has voted against strike action. Furthermore the 27% turnout in the Unison ballot (itself heavily advertised in all the tabloid press including the Rothermere Mail) is hardly a ringing endorsement for industrial action. Unison’s members came from NUPE, NALGO and COSHE. They include all sorts of people employed in the public services from white-collar town-hall staffers to dinner-ladies. A quarter of a million of them are paid less than seven quid an hour. Given that the price of everything seems to be on the rise, they deserve their wages to at least stay still. However it’s one thing to stand up for your members and want a living wage but quite another to rock the boat in difficult economic times with unrealistic inflation-busting demands. As Jon Gray blogged earlier Unison’s annual conference voted to remain affiliated to the Labour party the other day so to do the dirty on the government in the back this way seems daft.