The Wharf Says: Strikers say not us now

By Jon Massey on June 30, 2011 10:14 AM |


The entire country isn't opposed to the public sector strikes. Just those who haven't got jobs at all, those who haven't got any meaningful pensions, those in the private sector who face far more draconian cutbacks on their benefits, those in the small business sector who live with daily insecurity, and, of course, the army of parents valiantly attempting to arrange childcare as the schools shut.

It shouldn't matter - theoretically - what the rest of us think about the action.

The dispute is between the Government and a range of public sector workers who feel genuinely aggrieved that the goalposts of their employment conditions have changed.

Unfortunately for those union members, the battle for hearts and minds of the public is the only one that counts.

For a decent "summer of discontent" to gain traction, there must be a groundswell of opposition to the government's actions - as there was, say, with the poll tax.

Endurance will be key to making any kind of case and, in the face of overwhelming antipathy from the populace, the unions (beyond the leaderships who genuinely have secured themselves "gold-plated pensions") will lose heart, unconvinced of the merit of their case and unmoved by attempts to demonise a coalition government battling to balance the books.

That is evident even in these early days. Despite rigorous changes, many dutiful union members have found it difficult to summon up the requisite rancour to put an X in the box or themselves on the streets.

Insulated union leaders must be baffled why this perfect storm of clampdowns hasn't roused the membership.

But, in case they were unaware, the argument is a difficult one to push. As Labour's Liam Byrne memorably wrote: There's no money left.

People are taking to the streets of Athens with a heartfelt cry of "people power" as if people power can write blank cheques. Poignant but pointless.

Here, with a deficit that will take perhaps generations to clear, the cry of the strikers is essentially the same: Not us, now! Make our children pay!

Which is a hard message to sell and a tougher one to stomach.