The real winners of the public sector strikes

Westfield Shopping Centre entranceHigh street retailers received an ironic boost to pre-Christmas sales this week. After Black Friday, which saw crazed consumers grabbing bargains, a new phenomenon hit the major shopping centres around the UK – the Strike-ability factor.

Designated shopping day

Westfield Stratford, the new East London retail emporium, was heaving yesterday with families taking the advantage of a day away from the office due to the pension rights strike. Queues of shoppers snaked throughout their favourite stores such as Primark, Game and the Apple store. One of the Apple store's ubergeeks was overwhelmed at the numbers of people. "Normally I start around 1pm on a Wednesday and stand around waiting for something to happen. What is happening here? This is crazy," he said.

Reports in Manchester highlighted that the city's Trafford Centre had to open its overflow car park to accommodate thousands of extra consumers who would rather spend than strike. One shopper said on Twitter: "This is like the Boxing Day sales!"

Retail boost

Some retailers have already claimed that yesterday constituted a 7% rise in sales compared to the same period last year. Sir Philip Green, the billionaire owner of the UK's largest fashion retailers, bemoaned the seasonality problem of an overly warm Autumn last week. His stores should have seen a welcome injection of happy customers flouting civil protest - will his next press conference praise the strike-ability factor?

Another benefactor of the public disquiet must be retailer John Lewis. The store is the litmus test used by retail analysts on the state of the retail sector. It revealed department store sales fell 1.2% year-on-year last week. This followed a 3.3% drop in the previous week's trading. But yesterday the escalators in its new store in the shadow of the Olympic Park were full, with people flying off the last step as though it were the blocks of the men's 100m.

Consumer spirit

It is a quirk of the British psyche that the Dunkirk spirit is replaced by the Westfield spirit. After the Chancellor delivered one of the most depressing forecasts about the future of the UK economy, one section of the British workforce picks up badly punctuated placards to march, while the other section gets into its car to shop. It was a classic case of the private sector versus the public sector. To support the ailing economy, the private sector worker who has to look after their children once the schools close, decides to pump cash into consumerism.

Public sector workers now face a pay squeeze of just 1% capped wage increases for two years, but 90% of these workers will get a pension, and at the apex of the public sector director level, many will still receive a final salary pension. A senior local government officer on £100,000 a year will pick up £52,900 a year plus a lump sum of £123,750. Anyone in the middle tier of the private sector can only dream of such sums which is why the cry is greatest from those who will retire in the next five years.

So the private sector showed its solidarity yesterday by flashing its credit card. The phrase 'retail therapy' never seemed more appropriate.
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