Sir, – The idea of extending a public sector pay deal across the private sector and into a tripartite "social dialogue" is being flown with a very high kite ("Broader agreement for public pay talks raised in negotiations", News, May 21st).
Trade unionists should think twice before getting back into social partnership, under any new label. It is just what the trade union movement doesn’t need right now as it sets out to reconnect with its members after the seclusions of the Covid pandemic, and to give the proactive, firm and unfettered responses required to meet the cost-of-living, housing, healthcare and childcare crises.
The memory should not be lost of the experience of social partnership and centralised bargaining – wage restraint, declining union density, weaker industrial power – but also of how social partnership ended the last time. When it suited the employers, with a clear balance in their favour following the property and financial crash, they simply withdrew from the then agreement. Social partnership left the unions buckling under the austerity of the troika programme, with losses only recently nearing restoration.
Now a cluster of crises – climate, Covid, prices, war – presents substantial costs with various options for meeting them, including predictably that working people should pay with cuts and lower expectations, just when labour and skills shortages give workers and unions a new bargaining advantage. Behold, the return of social partnership, pay moderation and promises of budgetary quid pro quo, offered to workers already struggling with incomes being swiftly bypassed by the rate of inflation.
It is the very time that the trade unions need to develop their independence, their ties with the grassroots and their combativity rather than return to the confines and debilitation of social partnership. – Yours, etc,