Belfast Telegraph

Why today's strike is wrong card for union bosses to play

By Lindy McDowell

Doubtless George Osborne has more pressing matters on his mind amid public sector strikes today and bleak warnings that The Recession is planning a reunion tour over the next couple of months.

But there are signs that his message re belt-tightening and the need to avoid further debt may not be filtering down to our youngest consumers.

Gone are the days when a child was content to collect pop stickers or football cards. Now they're collecting credit cards.

Not the real thing - although doubtless there are a few mini divas already demanding - but fake "fun" credit cards that you can swap with your mates or sell on eBay.

For 30p you get a pack of surprisingly realistic looking cards bearing the logo of well-known credit card providers. The cards carry images of footballers, cartoon characters, pop stars and, in the case of the pack I bought in a local shop, a Staffordshire bull terrier.

Tulisa, Dennis the Menace, Luis Suarez, Bruno Mars and an un-muzzled Staffy. As a brief summary of popular culture 2011, it would be hard to trump.

The pack which points out that "all images and marks are for purely artistic purposes" advises that there are 49 cards to collect and there are four in every pack. I got five in my pack. Bonus!

According to the internet, the Justin Bieber seems to be the most coveted.

I had high hopes for Bruno Mars but sadly there seems little eBay demand.

Harmless fun? Exploitation (and indoctrination) of the young? Or just a bit of clever entrepreneurial marketing?

It's probably a mix of all three.

And while poor old George does indeed have bigger matters to ponder today it is another quirky illustration of the challenge he faces in preaching austerity to a population addicted to debt. Generations have grown up with the reassurance that there was always a lending institution out there available to take the strain. Right up to and including the legendary, bottomless pits of the IMF.

Now suddenly we're being told the coffers are finite after all. We can't go on living on the never-never. The myth of endless credit is for Silvio and the kids. Economically the rest of us have to grow up and get real.

And sadly, where the unions are concerned, this belt-tightening, something's-got-to-give message does make sense to a lot of hard-pressed consumers who accept that generally spending has to be reined in.

I say sadly, because while I may not always agree with union leaders, I am always, always on the side of the workers.

The public sector workers on strike today represent many of those key groups for whom you just have to have respect. Teachers. Hospital workers. Transport workers.

But in calling a strike which will at best inconvenience others and may cause very real hardship, haven't the union bosses done the very thing they've always warned against?

They've highlighted division.

The new division in society is not about class. It's the crucial question of - are you public or private?

Many private sector workers now look enviously at public sector pay and conditions. The public sector can afford to strike. In the public sector you can at least can look forward to an assured pension - no matter how diminished.

Put bluntly, in the private sector it's got to the stage where people worry that retirement provision could amount to sitting outside Tesco with a laminated copy of the Big Issue.

No matter how well-intentioned, the unions' call to strike has pointed up a growing sense of rift between these two sections of the labour force.

Workers united shall never be divided?

That seems to have about as much currency these days as a fake credit card drawn on the Bank of George Osborne.

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