We’re all familiar with the usual trade union cliches: it’s not about us, it’s about passenger safety; staff morale is low; and strikers are being ‘victimised’. Or, in the words of Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, train drivers are being ‘demonised’. More so than government ministers, who are forever portrayed by union leaders as callous evil-doers?
But it is what Whelan said next that really catches the ear. Asked whether he thought the public should be sympathetic towards train drivers on £60,000 a year turning down an offer which would take their pay to £65,000 a year, he said:
‘It isn’t about what we earn, it is about what other people don’t earn. I want every nurse in the country, everybody in the fire brigade, everybody in the public sector, every teacher to have what we have.’
Whelan seemed to be accepting that train drivers actually get rather a good deal – in which case why is he still not satisfied? But let’s leave that aside and try a little thought experiment: what would happen if every nurse, fire-fighter and teacher really were to be paid £60,000 – or even £65,000 – a year.
At present, the median UK salary for a full time worker is £640 per week, or £33,280 per year. Let’s now increase that to £65,000 a year. Multiplied by the 24.6 full-time workers in Britain, that would increase the national wage bill by £780 billion a year. The size of the UK economy is around £1.8 trillion. Government revenue in 2021/22 was £819 billion. But let no-one say that the money couldn’t be found. As the BBC was ticked off by Andrew Dilnot this week, it is wrong to equate public debt with household debt because governments have a facility which private households do not: the ability to print their way out of debt. So