Strikes and Doughnut Economics

1 Dec 2022

As I understand things in the lead up to Christmas, we shall be enduring strike action from the Royal Mail and the rail unions. To this we can add strikes by hospital and ambulance staff.

None of these essential services is under the direct control of the Government, so it could be unfair to blame them directly. They are accountable, though, for many of the factors that underlie these damaging industrial disputes. The list includes the unsettling recent chaos, the spiking of interest rates due to political ineptitude, the Brexit-induced rise in the cost of food, the Brexit-induced sense of general business uncertainty, the weakness of trade deals to-date, the utter failure to bear down on energy supply profiteering, the cost of the immigration mess. I could go on but I get fed up with lists, especially at this time of year. Lists always cause me to have to do things I didn’t decide on and getting into hot water for not doing them right – the difficult gap between the responsible doer and the accountable policy-owner, the list-maker.

This Government is just the same, dishing out its demands: “Local government, NHS, rail companies please go and execute these policies that reflect our political judgements and priorities, not your operational needs, and, no, there is no more money. Impossible? Tough bananas!” In any negotiation, it is inexcusable to set yourself unachievable goals. It is inexcusable to set unachievable goals for those working for or responsible to you. It is also inexcusable to damage the public good at a time of significant threat and concern.

I was excited, therefore, to hear that the Lib Dem run Somerset Council is looking to the principles of Doughnut Economics to help find solutions in a number of areas. Doughnut Economics seeks a fair social foundation for the economy while not breaking our planet’s ecological and environmental constraints. Thus, all sides in these current disputes should take a broader view and be accountable for actions that damage the social fabric or which are unsustainable. Thus, if a nurse, for example, sees his or her rewards as part financial and part vocational, the NHS should be looking to provide the best balance between those two that it can over the medium term.

What cannot happen is that both ends get squeezed at the same time. In the end, there is always a settlement. Get to it and be constructive and sustainable! At the macro level, national and international, if we fail to understand the necessary balance, the vital need for both social and environmental sustainability, then the ultras, the demagogues, the warmongers, the plutocrats, the oligarchs, the amoral, couldn’t-care-less financiers get to win.

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