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March 28, 2008


Pavement Trauma

Good post.

The 'social wage' concept is an attractive one. But.. (there is always a 'but') it is a mirror image of the tax cuts for wage moderation trade off of the social partnership agreements, with one potentially fatal difference.

With a tax cut you see the effect in your next pay packet. You have control over how it benefits you.
You can waste it, save it, invest it, blow it or whatever.

With a tax increase to pay for the social wage, you may see the improvements you hoped for in particular services or ... you might just see the extra money get p*ssed up against the wall of (take your choice of) the next benchmarking agreement, the health system black hole, a public transport system that treats its passengers with contempt etc.

The difficulties of implementing public service improvements are by no means just down to the workers in those areas but - let's be honest - they don't always make it easy.

If the union movement want to make the social wage argument, I think they have to add their shoulders to the wheel to improve these things and help convince people that extra public money will bring extra public benefits. That might bring them into conflict with their primary purpose of representing the interests of their members.


Yes, Pavement Trauma, public services have been so marginalised as a benefiicial economic force - by parties that are hostile to the public sector (e.g. Mary Harney in Health, etc.) - that I suspect that people don't have trust in the public realm to better their lives. In that sense, arguing for a social wage will fall on deaf ears, including many trade unionists.

Therefore, the Left has to be just as ruthless as to the causes of our underperformance in the public sector, as the Right. Even more so because if we want to put the case for greater expenditure, we have to be more vigillant as to the quality of that expenditure.

As you probably know, the OECD report on the public sector is coming out in a couple of weeks. Now that should be fun and games, though I have a sneaking suspicion of where they are going to start from and where they are going (all you have to do is go on their website and read their idelogical orientation, though admittedly they are rethinking a number of areas in light of the effects of globalisation). I'm sure we'll meet up here on that one.

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