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Too bad it’s the kind that can’t happen in Barack Obama’s America.
The fire chief in a major city launches a big campaign to prevent fires in poor neighborhoods. This effort is hugely successful: Fires and fire-related deaths drop by almost 50 percent. With fewer fires, the city no longer needs to support as many firefighters. Everybody happy? Not quite. The powerful fire union calls a strike to protest the job cuts. But the chief stands his ground, and the striking firemen soon return to work — seeing how well a skeletal fire crew does in their absence.
In short, the doughty (mythical?) fire chief in this story makes a big improvement in public safety, stares down a strike by a public sector union of legendary intransigence, and saves taxpayers a bundle of money in the process.
Sound too good to be true?
It didn’t (and, alas, couldn’t) happen in any big American city. Our cities have continued to add firemen even though the number of fires has fallen sharply over the past several decades. And more than just protecting their jobs and winning fat pay increases, unionized firefighters in American cities have distinguished themselves in winning fabulous disability and pension benefits — which is one reason why many cities and towns around the country are struggling to pay their bills.
But put that to the side for a moment.
The public sector success story cited above took place in Liverpool in northwest England. It involves the Merseyside (i.e. Greater Liverpool) Fire & Rescue Service which covers a 264 square area of 1.4 million inhabitants, including large ethnic or immigrant populations where English is a second language (if spoken at all).
This is how the Economist (“Fire-Service Reform: More with Less; A Liverpool fireman demonstrates how it can be done,” Oct. 7, 2010), described the turn of events in England’s fourth largest city under the leadership of Fire Chief Tony McGuirk:
McGuirk saw that speedy response wasn’t enough: prevention was the key. At the time, no fire service in the country concentrated on preventing fires in the home. With the backing of local political authorities, Mr. McGuirk and his team resolved to evangelize, providing basic fire-safety advice, checking 350,000 homes and fitting 700,000 smoke alarms. They liaised with social services and recruited new kinds of staff, such as “advocates” who took the safety message into ethnic communities.
All this involved cutting the number of fire officers, who, Mr. McGuirk realized, were underemployed for long periods during their shifts. Anyway, fewer fires required fewer rescuers. Although no one was made redundant involuntarily, in 2006 the fire-brigade union called a strike. Protesters dubbed the fire chief “McJerk”; 2,000 of them walked through Liverpool carrying banners with slogans such as “I hate McGuirk.”
Ironically, it was soon clear that the 200 officers who stayed at work could run the service at full capacity. “I told the local press they would never notice there was a strike,” says Mr. McGuirk. “It’s not my job to be popular; it’s to deliver.” The strike was defeated in a month.
As Barack Obama might say, Mr. McGuirk didn’t turn Merseyside Fire & Rescue into one of most efficient fire departments in all of Britain on his own; he had a big helping hand from someone who has been out of office for more than two decades: former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
She created the conditions (diametrically opposed to all of the conditions that Obama has fostered in our country) that made the fire chief’s achievement possible — in passing laws limiting abuses of union power, in privatizing nationalized industries, in contracting-out of many services that had been the exclusive province of public sector workers, and in refusing to expend taxpayer money to preserve and expand unneeded public sector jobs.
Asked in 2002 to name her greatest achievement, Thatcher responded: “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.” In successfully running for office in 1997, Blair declared the creation of a “New” Labour Party, after repealing Clause IV of party’s 1918 constitution, which committed the party to the Socialist principle of state ownership and control of “the means of production, distribution, and exchange.”
One may debate how far to the center Blair and Gordon Brown moved in the Labour governments that held sway from 1997 to 2009. But it is certainly true that all of governments since Thatcher — Conservative, Labour, and (since 2009) Conservative / Liberal — have continued to pursue a much tougher line on public sector pay and job growth than the governments preceding hers.
Since the beginning of 2009, the number of public sector jobs in Britain has declined steadily from 6.3 million down to 5.9 million, a drop of 414,000 jobs or 6.5 percent. By contrast, government employment in the United States is down just 2.7 percent over the same period of time, while federal employment has actually increased.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?