This attempt to cut the salaries of civil servants goes against a basic British sense of justice.

In September 1931, 1,000 sailors in the British Atlantic fleet refused to sail from the port of Invergordon, sparking an open revolt – one of very few revolts in our maritime history. Seafarers of all echelons were protesting the proposed 10% overall pay cuts, but they were also protesting the unfair decision to cut wages of 25% for junior crewmen and those who joined after 1925 – the failure of the then National Government’s failed attempt to deal with the Depression. part of it, balance the national budget and stay on the gold standard.

This attempt backfired spectacularly. The 25 percent cut could have been canceled to get the fleet back to sea – even the admirals conceded it wasn’t fair – but international investors had come after a decade of government efforts to lower real wages to keep British trade competitive. Britain was unable to force its workforce into the financial straitjacket of increasingly lower real wages imposed by trying to tie the sterling to the price of gold. The sterling escape was unstoppable. Five days later, Britain surrendered to reality and was forced to abandon the gold standard.

Human beings have an innate hatred of inequality.

The sailors proved what today’s behavioral psychologists now accept. People are born with an aversion to inequality. Society is built on the core premise of all the world’s great religions and philosophies that you should do what you’re done. My actions guarantee a proportionate, fair, reciprocal response from you, and you expect nothing less from me. A few months old babies will cry or smile to the extent that they feel their caregiver’s response to what they are doing is fair and proportionate. Every parent tells their child, “This is not fair!” knows his exclamation point. The sailors on the flagship Hood and other battlecruisers in 1931 had served their country faithfully – but they were not done as they would have. They revolted.

In 2023, our Tory leaders must take notes and learn. For more than 40 years, drinking free-market Kool-Aid has freed the Tory party of any concerns about fairness, reciprocity, proportionality, or fairness. Words do not enter his vocabulary or determine his economic and social policies. Its language is based either on the vague threats of national debt ballooning or self-fulfilling inflation, or on calls to increase individual freedom and entrepreneurship through tax cuts or cutting regulation and bureaucracy. Public institution is the last resort. The tax cut was elevated to sacred status, such as sacrificing a goat on the altar in the Celtic stone circle as a response that the economic gods would enable growth. In the 1920s, Britain’s utilities and public sector workers were locked in a financial straitjacket to support the gold standard, which resulted in a naval rebellion. In the 2010s and early 2020s, utilities were locked in a self-defeating straitjacket to support the quest for tax relief that never came to fruition because it was impossible.

Thus begins the current wave of public sector strikes. It was good news that consumer price inflation fell to 10.5% in the second month last week. With the gas price following the oil price downwards, there is every possibility that inflation has peaked. However, core inflation – subtracting variable energy, food, alcohol and tobacco prices – remained at 6.3%. Look at the payment model though. Wages in the private sector (excluding bonuses) increased by 7.2%, while wages in the public sector without bonuses increased by 3.3%. In other words, the prolonged pressure on real wages that began after the financial crisis – that is, wages adjusted for inflation to reflect what money can buy – continues. But the inequality between the public and private sectors is sharpening. This is reflected in record unfilled public sector vacancies and the current wave of strikes. It is the Invergordon effect.

The government hides to the point of lying about the affordability of offering wages to public sector workers, in line with core inflation of at least 6.3%. To deny this is a financial sleight of hand. In a period of high inflation, tax revenues increase automatically. Public spending will also rise with inflation, including wages. Claims that raising the wages of one-fifth of the public sector workforce to compensate for core inflation risk sparking a wage-price spiral and are unaffordable are unfounded. There is cash, and the wages of a fifth of the workforce whose output is not sold on the market cannot trigger a wage-price spiral. The money is stacked to appease the druids in the right-wing stone circles before the next election.

Related: John Rawls: Can the great philosopher of liberalism come to the rescue of the West again?

Inside A Theory of JusticePhilosopher John Rawls argued that the good society is a society in which every citizen can freely use the gifts given to him to the best of his ability, no matter what circumstance he finds himself in, and therefore no one cares where or whose child one is born. . He was ordered to do what we would do to his logical conclusion. Education, housing, retirement, access to health and opportunities, and everything that makes a life worth living will be the same for the least advantaged as well as the least advantaged – he called the difference principle. The influence of good and bad luck should be completely removed from our lives as much as possible.

According to Rawls, taxation should serve these purposes, especially to raise the level of everyone by providing high-quality public services. Inherited wealth should be heavily taxed—family dynasties built on inherited wealth violated his theory of justice—and revenues should be used to improve the quality of public infrastructure and public services, especially those most in need.

Utopian? Maybe, but I would argue this is closer to the heartbeat of British values ​​than the vicious vision of today’s Tory cabinet. Rather than imposing minimum civil service obligations on public sector unions if they strike, Rawls would insist that the government accept its obligation to create a just society by providing high-quality public services. Under those conditions, he understood and supported the strikes. We should do the same. Let’s do as we will.

• Will Hutton is an Observer columnist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *