IT is unhelpful to criticise the current surge of wage demands as an uprush of greed and irresponsibility. Some large claims will dwindle before they reach the table. Others, if analysed one by one, are, in the light of workers' needs and value, reasonable and just. It is simply that the aggregate is more than the traffic can bear.
There is no conspiracy, only the natural urge of every group to keep up with the rest. Rising prices are knocking the meaning out of previous gains. The incomes policy is ending, says Mrs. Castle. It has been shattered already by outsize awards for lower paid public servants, miners and others.
The balance of payments is in surplus. It seems to be time to have a go. For years the Ford and Vauxhall workers have striven for parity with their colleagues in the Midlands. It is as expensive to live in Luton as in Birmingham.
Still, the rash of claims is serious. Nor will rising wages give the economy a needed boost, as Mr. Vic Feather suggests, by stimulating demand. For while, after taxation, the worker gets only a part of his rise, the whole of the cost of the rise is added to prices. Between the beginning of 1967 and the autumn of 1969 the monthly earnings index rose by 221 per cent, production by only 7-8 per cent. In 1969 the value of world trade rose by 15 per cent, British exports by 12 per cent. Our share of world trade continues to fall.
The answer is not "demand management," Mrs. Castle's euphemism for creating unemployment (one way of stifling wage claims). Nor can incomes policies or anti-strike laws work if enough workers dig their toes in.