THERE is a relatively new phenomenon, which emerged since the explosion of social media, called a filter bubble.

In essence, this is a 21st century version of an echo chamber, with the assistance of the internet. Based on our logged interests, on our likes and dislikes, we are presented by our search engines with other linked interests which it presumes we will also like. If you like this, you must like that.

The filter bubble is the creation of cutting-edge internet algorithms but, ironically, its one-size-fits-all nature is also what guides the foundational thinking of a rather less modern industry – the trade union movement.

We see and hear this every day now, in this summer, into autumn, and now into winter of discontent. The trade unions have adopted their equivalent of a NATO Article 5 policy, where an attack on one is an attack on all; or, rather, they have adopted a reverse of that, whereby support for one is presumed to be support for all.

This is the filter bubble of the trade union movement – if we support refuse workers striking, we must also support train drivers striking, and if we oppose nurses striking, we must also oppose teachers striking. Right? Wrong.

Wrong, because the real people, out here in the real world, do not operate that way. One size does not fit all. One size fits one.

This is not conjecture on my part. Polling has shown differential support for various workers going on strike. YouGov polling during the summer, for instance, showed that fewer than one-in-six people had a lot of sympathy with striking train drivers, whereas those working in supermarkets would gather the support of one-in-four if they decided to walk out. Little over one-in-ten people would support university staff taking strike action, where over one-third of us would support doctors downing stethoscopes.

We can all debate where we might rank these roles, and our sympathy for those performing them, but what we cannot debate is that the nature of the human being is such that subjective judgement plays as much of a role in our support, or otherwise, for strikes, as does objective judgement.

The abject failure of trade unions to understand this basic element of human nature is a real danger to the credibility of, and regard for, the workforces they are supposed to represent. We should all be concerned that, in Scotland, the behaviour of the EIS trade union has precisely that damaging impact on the regard for teachers.

I don’t mind saying that I have a particular view of teachers. I place education above all other public services; I think education is more important to individuals, to families, and to society and the economy as a whole than any other public service. I am happy to include in this the police, the fire service, the NHS; you name it, I think it’s less important than education.

For that reason, I support highly paid teachers. They are at the top of my tree of public sector workers. I want them to be outstanding people attracted by outstanding salaries, in order that they can produce outstanding future citizens.

So I have sympathy for the teachers. I don’t support them striking, because strikes are bad for children, who have suffered enough from school closures in this turbulent decade, bad for parents, many of whom will lose earnings just ahead of Christmas and in the middle of an energy price crisis, and bad for teachers themselves because of the long-term reputational damage they risk. But sympathy? Yes.

I also have a large degree of sympathy for refuse workers, who undertook a lengthy strike earlier in the year, causing huge inconvenience and, perhaps, permanent damage to the international image of Edinburgh, not to mention the environmental damage inflicted. But as a group of workers on a less-than-average salary during the cost of living crisis, doing a job with an importance which was brought into sharp focus, I feel that sympathy.

But, reader, I don’t mind saying that there are groups of workers I do not have sympathy for. Take train drivers, for instance. Train drivers and refuse workers, as it happens, share some commonalities. They do not require any form of academic qualification, and can begin their career after some basic training. The similarities end there; the basic salary of a train driver, at around £50,000, is double that of a refuse worker, and once overtime is included it is said that a train driver in Scotland can earn up to £80,000.

This is a higher salary than all doctors other than consultants, who require straight A grades at school, followed by five years at medical school and anything up to eight years of on-the-job training, often working unsustainable hours under severe pressure, before they can attain the salary of a train driver.

It is also higher than all teachers other than the most senior heads, all police officers under chief superintendent level, and all MSPs other than government ministers.

Train drivers are but one example. There are skewed salaries across the public sector.

Some readers may think this is acceptable. That is fine. I do not think it is acceptable, and that is fine, too. One size does not fit all. One size fits one.

It is time, I think, for us to find a better way to do this. There is a better way to regulate and normalise the salaries of public sector workers which would create the dual benefit of injecting fairness and equity into a system which is deeply unfair and inequitable, and which would eliminate the constant chaos of trade unions and government negotiating pay in public, based on which of them possesses the most political capital at that point.

Creating a new quango is never a popular political move, but that is what we need here. Scotland needs a public sector pay authority, which draws on the experience of industry, academia, the HR profession, the trade unions and the government. This authority would analyse all of those facets which those of us outside the filter bubble would expect to drive salary – academic qualifications, training, experience, the level of responsibility, the hours, the importance to the nation.

It would create that most basic of rights; a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

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