As I have pointed out a number of times, there are no real cuts in prospect: in fact, spending will be some 9% higher in five years than it is now.
For those who don't understand, the Adam Smith Institute has published some handy figures, the textual highlights of which I reproduce below...
As this table shows, the government's proposed cuts are pretty small beer. In nominal terms, spending will rise every year. In real terms (assuming 2 percent a year price inflation) this equates to small cuts in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14, followed by small rises in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Compared to the c.60% real terms public spending rise that took place under the previous government, this is, frankly, insignificant.
Current spending meanwhile (and almost all 'vital, front-line public services' fall into this category) will rise every year between now and 2015-16, even in real terms...
Now, OK, these are not exactly big rises - but nor are they swingeing cuts that will (a) have any significant effect on the economy or (b) on the public services-using population at large. What the coalition's spending plans really amount to is a five-year, real terms freeze of current expenditure, combined with three years of significant falls in capital expenditure. The overall impact of that is a a very small, real terms drop in TME (roundabout 1.5%) between now and 2015-16.
Now, personally, I don't think that there is any real reason to be calm, since this doesn't solve the problem of our fucking enormous deficit: as the Cobden Centre points out, the government is already effectively insolvent.
Leaving that aside—for the problem is so big that it boggles my tiny mind—one cannot quite see why the unions are making such a fuss; regardless, the leaders of the trades unions are gearing up for some seriously militant action.
A ‘call to arms’ for workers across the country to go out on strike in protest at Government spending cuts will be issued by a senior trade union leader today.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, will also urge employees in both the public and private sectors to take part in civil disobedience during a wave of 1930s-style all-out general strikes.
In a speech at the RMT annual conference in Aberdeen, he will say that “a sustained campaign of generalised strikes” was necessary due to the “fiscal fascism” being imposed by the Coalition Government.
So, the unions will go on strike and everyone will realise how much they don't need these people. If public transport is at a stand-still, people will drive to work (or wherever). If there is no other way to get to the office, the internet and access-anywhere applications will enable people to work from home.
The vast majority of people—especially those who are employed and productive—have very little interaction with the agents of the state services (which, of course, are rather more dominated by union members than private companies are).
The people who will be hit hardest will be those whom Bob and his fellow union buddies profess to be so very concerned about—the poor and the feckless.
Nice one, Bob.
What is doubly irritating, of course, is that we are paying for the unions' war against ourselves; and these chunks of cash are, as Mark Wallace points out, substantial.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has produced a crucial report on the Trade Unions today [PDF]—exposing the true scale to which unions are subsidised with taxpayers’ money.
As well as the Union Modernisation Fund, which lives on despite its growing notoriety, the TPA have uncovered 2,493 full time Union employees who are paid for by public sector bodies at a cost of £67.5 million a year.
This is crucial for two reasons. First, it means that key union overheads like recruitment and organising of branches are funded by the general public without their knowledge or approval. Even more importantly, it means that the levies raised from union members are freed up for campaigning war chests.
It is bad enough when politicians use our money to conspire against us, but what the Coalition is doing is insane.
Poilitically, and most importantly, what should be done about the Unions’ taxpayer-funding, and their political activities as a whole? It is telling that the payments to the union movement rose by 14% in Labour’s last year in office – they chose to buy union support (and donations) using taxpayers’ cash.
Some Conservatives may believe that by continuing these payments they will be able to keep the unions sweet. Far from it. The union movement as a whole is bitterly, eternally opposed to the essential spending cuts that must be carried out. They’ll merrily pocket cash from a Tory Government – but they certainly won’t change their tune just because the enemies they love to hate are foolish enough to appease them.
Continuing to make these payments would mean that the Coalition is actively subsidising groups who intend to apply political pressure against Coalition policies. Worse, when the inevitable strikes begin, those 2,493 paid officials will be manning the pickets, rallying the troops and helping to organise the disruption of public services. This is worse than appeasement – it’s helping to pay the wages of the opposing army.
Our New Coalition Overlords™ are effectively throwing our money at the unions, who then conspire to make our lives a misery—and to bring down the government which is authorising the payments.
Further, since union demands are almost always for shorter working hours and more pay, the government is paying these bastards large chunks of our money so that they can afford to lobby the government to be given even more of our hard-earned cash for doing even less work.
It is barking fucking insanity. And, frankly, it's deeply fucking insulting.
Still, it is time for the government to be libertarian: quite simply, the antiquated laws that prevent employers from sacking striking workers must be removed—as I proposed to Brendan O'Neill at the IEA debate.
In conversations afterwards, in the pub, I pointed this out to Brendan. I was consistent, I maintained, because—like him—I did not want the government propping up (and being lobbied by) business. But trades unions are just as much of a vested interest as the corporates. If one truly believes in libertarianism, then one should not support the laws against sacking strikers. In fact, there should be no government interference on either side.
The whole point of a trade union was to be able to motivate large numbers of workers so that, if an employer behaved unjustly, then they would have to negotiate because otherwise they couldn't carry out their business. This is far more true now—when most workers are skilled and require considerable training—than it was when the trades unions were first formed (when much of the work was repetitive manual labour).
In the end, Brendan appeared, at least, to agree with me that the state should be involved on neither side, although he still maintained the right to strike was one of the most fundamental. I countered that everyone has the right to strike, law or no law—they just don't have the right to remain employed if doing so.
I suspect that workers would be far less happy to vote for strikes if they were fully aware that there might be no job for them to return to. And all we would be doing is levelling the playing field.
As usual, I don't expect Our New Coalition Overlords™ to do anything so bold. However, I would hope that they would stop paying the union danegeld: history shows that giving into blackmail never works for long...