Top union leaders are better paid than their counterparts in the private sector – and they do it by holding the nation to ransom, says Matthew Sinclair.
Old-fashioned socialist firebrand trade-union representatives must be a little disappointed. Trade union leaders are supposed to be scourges of the rich, ensuring the money is taken for the workers in egalitarian redistribution. But when they look from trade unionist to capitalist, and from capitalist to trade unionist, and from trade unionist to capitalist again, it is impossible to say which is which.
In their latest returns to the Certification Officer, 36 trade unions have reported that they gave their general secretaries or chief executives pay and benefits of more than £100,000. That compares pretty well with the private sector.
According to the Institute of Directors, the average basic pay of a managing director in a small company (turnover up to £5 million a year) was £70,000. At a medium-sized company (turnover up to £50 million a year) it was £100,000. And even in a large company (with a turnover up to £500 million a year) it was £128,000.
Based on their annual returns, the NUT’s income was £32 million, so Christine Blower’s salary of £106,000 is above the average for a private company of its size. And with benefits on top of that, her total remuneration was over £140,000.
Other union bosses who have recently led strikes, or who are planning them now, have also done well. Bob Crow at the RMT, responsible for so many Tube strikes, gets total remuneration of over £120,000; Len McCluskey at Unite does too.
Mark Serwotka is planning on leading border staff who are members of the PCS union, in a strike that will disrupt the beginning of the Olympics, on the strength of just a 20 per cent turnout at the ballot. Barely one in 10 of their members actually voted for the strike. He got total remuneration of over £115,000. Few of the taxpayers who are picking up the bill for the incredibly expensive event he might ruin are so fortunate.
There is a broader point here. Unions claim to be speaking up for the less fortunate. But in fact they are striking to defend the interests of relatively fortunate workers in the public sector, paid around eight per cent more than those in the private sector even after adjusting for the different characteristics of the two workforces according to the IFS and the ONS. The reality is the exact opposite of their “fat cat” jibes at the private sector.
Of course, some people do earn unjustified rewards in the private sector too, in cosy industries shielded from competition by political favour. But many more are entrepreneurs who put aside a safe salary for the risks of starting a new business that, if it was successful, would also generate new jobs and higher wages for the rest of us. Public sector union bosses, on the other hand, head organisations subsidised at taxpayers’ expense, with thousands of activists paid on the public payroll. They specialise in holding the public’s wallet to ransom by threatening to disrupt the services they have paid for handsomely.
It isn’t really in the long term interests of their members. Public services depend on a strong economy for the tax base that finances them. That tax base isn’t going to last with high taxes or eye-watering deficits squeezing the life out of the private sector. But that isn’t a problem that will concern the union fat cats. They are too busy leading their members into futile battles to justify their fat paycheques.
Matthew Sinclair is the director of The TaxPayers’ Alliance