‘Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets,’
Benjamin Disraeli – Sybil or the Two Nations 1845
In 1845 Disraeli wrote about the Two Nations when describing the state of society within England and the dreadful conditions of the working classes compared to the relative prosperity of the upper and middle classes. Today we again have a case where Britain is divided between two groups, the public and the private sectors, who it would seem are as ignorant of each other’s lives as the classes described by Benjamin Disraeli in 1845.
No better indication of this can be found than in the fact that in recent months it has become painfully obvious that the pain suffered by the private sector in terms of reforms to pensions, job security and basic pay have not been experienced in anywhere near the same degree in the public sector.
However, this has not stopped public sector workers encouraged by their unions from threatening a wave of industrial action throughout 2011 in an attempt to stop the coalition government from introducing badly needed reforms to both the pay and conditions of state employees in Britain.
The public sector unions in Britain are the last great unreformed sector of the workforce and a constant reminder of the bad old days of the 1970s when the trade union movement effectively bankrupted and de-industrialized the UK with their outrageous demands and constant strikes. In the last few years these last remaining bastions of socialist dogma have become more militant in an effort to ward off much needed and in fact absolutely necessary reforms to the public sector which if left in its current state would become even less productive and efficient and even more of a drain on the British economy.
The public sector unions have always based their opposition to any reforms or changes to their working conditions on the argument of fairness and equality when in fact it is painfully obvious to any outside observer that the driving factors behind their unwillingness to even contemplate reforms are politics and the protection of vested interests.
In the spring of 2011 some of the public sector unions came out on strike over the issue of a pay freeze for public sector workers earning over £18,000 a year, claiming that it was quite unfair for their members not to get pay rises so that the government could reduce the massive deficit that the United Kingdom currently has. However, this action was completely unsuccessful because it gained little public support outside of the usual suspects because almost everybody not working in the public sector had already had to take a much heavier hit in terms of pay and conditions in order to keep their jobs in the preceding years.
Nevertheless, the trade unions are once again out in force trying to change the government’s reforms of public sector pensions. They claim that any reform to their pensions is grossly unfair and they hope that the public will support them. To the uninformed at first glance you could perhaps understand anger over an issue as emotive as pensions until you look at the cold, hard facts.
It has often been claimed that employees in the public sector earn significantly less than their private sector colleagues and therefore have more generous benefits in order to make up for this disparity but every media report (including Channel 4 News which is hardly right-wing in its opinion) in the last few days has shown conclusively that this is one of the great myths of modern British society.
In fact all reports into the difference in pay between public and private sector workers have highlighted that not only do public sector workers get paid more on average but also that the benefits they accrue from working for the state are incredibly generous especially in the area of pensions. Nevertheless they still expect public support from the general public who by working in the private sector have pay and conditions which are nowhere near as generous.
The proposed government reforms which apparently are so unpalatable as to warrant the disruption of millions of people’s lives would move public sector pensions from their current final salary scheme to a career average scheme and would increase both the contributions the employee would have to make and their retirement age. However, public sector pensions even after these reforms would still be considerably more generous than anything available in the private sector. Therefore in desperate attempts to curry support the unions have created the totally erroneous idea that current pension provisions for public sector workers will be touched when the government has quite clearly stated that all benefits accrued up to this point are totally safe.
The trade unions in their campaign against the government and their reforms are not arguing for fairness but are instead expecting less well-paid, more productive, longer-working private sector employees to pay for gold-plated, incredibly generous and totally unsustainable pensions (both demographically and financially) for a minority of the population. Britain in 2011 is therefore once again a country of ‘two nations’ only this time the divide is between those who work in the public sector and those who work in the private sector and have to fund the extravagances and ‘Spanish Practices’ of the vocal and militant minority.