An equality of misery

The British are a reasonably egalitarian lot, when it comes to lowest common denominators. But not when you consider the argument over public sector pensions, and planned strike action by civil service trade unions in defence of established pension rights.

Government argues that public sector pensions should be brought into line with the less generous schemes common to the commercial world. Union leaders call this an argument for an “equality of misery”. That may be so, but there are serious flaws in union thinking and strategy.

First is the claim that decent occupational pensions make up for relatively low wages in the civil service. There may have been a time when that was true, but private sector salaries have in recent years been squeezed hard, and the pay differential is now small, if it exists at all. Forget about the remuneration of company executives and senior managers, who make up only a small percentage of private sector employees. What matters are the pay and conditions of the mass of workers.

Next comes the psychology of this “equality of misery”. By many accounts the peoples of Britain are pretty fecked off when it comes to work matters and economic uncertainty, and this is so even where they are not suffering personally, owing to savings and property equity accrued during boom times. The middle may be squeezed, but in most cases the degree of discomfort is mild.

Grumpiness, indifference and a lack of empathy abound, at least as far as peer groups are concerned. The middle classes will continue to be kind to children and other animals, and give generously to charity. At the same time they will quite happily stab their workmates in the back.

Will there be public sympathy for striking civil servants? I doubt it.