Don’t blame the strikers, blame the system

At the moment the South African government is having some pretty heavy debate with the people it employs. Hundreds of thousands of workers are striking because the government wants to give them a 6% wage increase and they want 12%.

This is a predictable situation for a group of self interested parties. The government wants to save money, the workers want more money, and the trade unionists want to push their own careers. Makes sense and you can’t really blame any of the parties involved (although I despise those who prevent others from working – especially in essential services).

The public – including me – also have a stake in this argument. We need those government workers to deliver services to us – something they they are not always very good at. I heard a guy on the radio speaking about this – he reckons that the solution is for the state to ‘outsource’ as many of its functions as possible. For instance, the state pays for the roads but doesn’t actually build them itself. Similarly the state should pay for prisons, but there is no reason for the state to actually run the prisons.

The idea is that competition in any arena would:

  1. Increase efficient delivery (something that we really have a problem with);
  2. Increase competition for good employees, thus driving wages up.

I am a fan of this kind of thinking in general. Systems should be flexible, goals should be set, and competition should allow the best solutions to float to the top. The government could set the goals and pay the best people to meet those goals. Government’s role should be to select goals and to allocate financial resources to those goals, but competing companies should be doing the work.

This would also help to avoid a situation where hundreds of thousands of people are striking. Wages would be more flexible and reactive, and agreements could be negotiated for specific situations. We certainly wouldn’t land up in the situation we are now in.

The unionists would argue that this would put too much power into the hands of the capitalist business owners. I don’t agree.