Editor's Viewpoint: Picketing is not the line to take
Threats of a winter of discontent by the NIPSA trade union is almost a reflex action to the cuts in public expenditure. Like everyone else in these times of austerity the union is concerned about the impact on its members.
But it, and any other union tempted to take strike action, must also accept the realities of the current times. The national debt is of such magnitude that it requires radical remedies and, sadly, cuts in the public purse are inevitable.
There is a perception that those who work in the public sector have good jobs, are well paid and have enviable terms and conditions. That may not mirror the reality for the many who work in relatively low-paid jobs and for whom any worsening of their conditions will have a disproportionate effect. And, quite rightly, the union is trying to protect those members. Yet their position is little different from many in the private sector who have had to endure pay freezes, even cuts to salaries, and for whom retaining their job is often regarded as a bonus.
NIPSA officials are expected to recommend to members that they take industrial action in the coming months. The union and others feel it will take protest on that scale to at least temper government policies on public spending cuts. Yet, it could be a risky course of action. Workers in the private sector and the general public are unlikely to be sympathetic and the government may decide to tough things out, claiming that there is no alternative to current policies.
Yet the politicians, be they in the Tory-Lib Dem government or the power-sharing Executive at Stormont, should heed the union's warning. There is undeniable anger at the depth of the public spending cuts and the public feels it is being penalised for the sins of others. Industrial action, however, does not seem to be the appropriate response at this time as it could damage the very economic recovery - especially in Northern Ireland which is so heavily dependent on the public sector - that can help lead us out of austerity.