[Update at end of post]
The news of possible moves to end national pay bargaining for public sector workers has seen predictable reactions: Trade Union leaders have passed severely adverse comment on the idea, with politicians in regions and countries away from London and the South East more or less equally hostile. But in the land of the Astroturf lobby group, the F-word has been wheeled out in support.
More from the comfortable of Tufton Street
And that F-word, in the enactment of a particularly sick joke, is Fairness. Yes, effectively cutting tens of thousands of workers’ pay has been concluded to be fair. So who is this champion of inequality? Step forward Matthew Sinclair, slippery and humourless head non-job holder at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), who is all in favour of weakening workers’ pay and conditions.
In a post categorised as “Economics 101” – it’s like, duh, simple, right – and titled “Ending centralised pay bargaining is a very good idea”, Sinclair tells that such a move would be “right for taxpayers; right for public sector workers; and mean better public services”. The only losers in the world of the TPA would be “union bosses ... and their ... high pay”. This is drivel of the highest order.
He claims that national pay bargaining disadvantages the South East, but does not consider that the existing structure could easily be revised to cater for this. Instead, and predictably, he homes in on areas well away from the capital, where he claims that lower pay would be “realistic”, and slips in the evidence free assertion that the public sector is crowding out the private.
And nor does he tell how public services would be improved by paying less to those who provide them, or indeed that the taxpayers he claims to represent include not just those public sector workers, but those in the private sector that depend on them for their own livelihoods. He sees no need to do this, as in the world of the TPA, the larger picture does not need to enter.
So he does not tell how less money in local economies means less spending power, that those taking pay cuts buy less and cheaper clothing, make less purchases of consumer goods, take less holidays away from home, spend less on their homes, visit restaurants and take-aways less or not at all, use their cars less, with shops and other businesses caught in a spiral of decline.
When the shops get boarded up, with owners of failed businesses hauled before courts as queues lengthen at Job Centres, the TPA will coincidentally be of less than perfect courage. Diary clashes will prevent their appearance to spread the gospel of fairness. And for Matthew Sinclair, there will be the satisfaction of a master well served, a task accomplished, and a middle class royally screwed over.
Thus the actions of an unprincipled and spineless coward. No change there, then.
[UPDATE 19 March 0940 hours: Sinclair has restated his case in a Guardian Comment Is Free (CiF) exchange with Stefan Stern, visiting professor of management practice at London's Cass Business School. Sinclair's argument is as in his post on the TPA site.
Stern makes this observation: "The sluggish UK economy needs more demand, not less. It is hard to see how paying people less will encourage growth ... if we really are 'all in this together' we probably need more rather than fewer national benchmarks".
Stern also points out that lowering pay in the public sector, far from doing any good to local economies, may well encourage private sector employers in that area to also drive down pay. This would be especially true where union representation is weak or non-existent.
And Sinclair fails once again to explain why handing public sector workers a pay cut will be good for them, or improve the services they work to deliver]