Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/731/15099
Local government pension scheme
How did we end up worse off?
A Coventry council worker
All three local authority trade unions have now accepted the new-look pension scheme - LGPS 2014, with ballots in GMB, Unite and Unison all returning large majorities in favour of accepting. Council workers will have a worse pension - paying more, working longer and getting less.
Many members and activists will ask how we went from a huge day of industrial action on 30 November 2011 (N30) to where we have now accepted a deal that will see members worse off.
The union leaderships signed up to a 'Heads of Agreement' after N30 which accepted many of the very issues that we had fought against. Months and months then dragged by with little or nothing coming out about what was being negotiated.
Little wonder that members started to question whether the union leaderships were up for the fight. In Unison, branches and activists who wanted to campaign for a no vote were effectively stopped from putting their case to the members.
It was not just Unison who recommended acceptance. GMB campaigned for the deal, as did Unite. The Unite recommendation was especially disappointing given that when GMB and Unison signed up for the Heads of Agreement, Unite initially refused to do so.
The fight to reclaim our unions for the members has to be stepped up. This could be a drawn-out process. But we must take heart from what took place in the civil service union, PCS. PCS and its forerunner unions were controlled by the right wing for many years, but the Left waged a long term battle for democracy and for a fighting programme and now the PCS is one of the most active and prominent unions in the fight against austerity.
We need to defend union democracy against unelected officials who see their role as 'policing' the membership. We need genuine lay democracy. Imagine what a powerful weapon Unison and other unions could be if they had a combative approach. These are our unions, and we want them back!
Branches who think on the same lines need to coordinate. Elected positions in the union need to be fought for and won. Our industrial strategy can't be limited to a big march and then a big day of strike action, with months or years in between!
We need to link up with all public and private sector unions for coordinated action. A 24-hour general strike would be a huge step forward to building the necessary unity - and would send a serious warning shot across the Con-Dems' bows.
Let us also remember that there are unions across the public sector that are still in the pensions battle - some of which took action on 10 May and could look to further action in the autumn.
There needs to be a discussion among Unison, Unite and GMB members about the link with the Labour Party and the way forward in terms of political representation.
Around 80% of the cuts are still to be implemented so we also need a political strategy, one which goes beyond the Labour-inspired: "cuts but a bit less severe than the Tories". The unions need to discuss the policies of nationalisation, public ownership and a socialist alternative.
In The Socialist 29 August 2012:
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