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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 December 2005

What we think

Pensions struggles still loom

FOR THE best part of two decades, big business has slashed and burned its way through the pension funds and entitlements of working people. Both internationally and in Britain, the bosses are pushing governments to carry out a further wave of attacks on workers' pension rights through cutting public-sector occupational pensions and the state pension.

The recent climbdown forced on the British government over public-sector occupational pensions began to swing the pendulum away from the bosses' offensive.

When the framework agreement on public-sector occupational pensions was reached - protecting the pension rights of existing workers in health, education and the civil service - Britain's bosses foamed at the mouth about this being a return to the union power of the 1970s and an abject capitulation by the government.

The socialist warned at the time that a battle had been won but big struggles still loomed. The bosses would not lie back and accept this settlement; primarily because it showed workers - in both public and the private sector - that the pensions' offensive could be rolled back.

Now, with the publication of the Turner report imminent, the CBI has been pressuring Chancellor Gordon Brown - as prime minister in waiting - to overturn the public-sector pensions agreement. At the same time Brown is pursuing other battles with Adair Turner, chair of the Pensions Commission, and Tony Blair about the future outline of public spending.

CBI members have said their members and employees are furious about public-sector workers being allowed to retire at 60. As the articles on page one and below show, retirement at 60 is not a realistic option even now for many public-sector workers.

And, the bosses' concern for their workers would be touching were it not so hypocritical. The reason they claim to want the public-sector deal overturned is because it will make harder to get their employees to work till the age of 67 without a final-salary pension scheme.

Unite struggles

THE PENSIONS debate has intensified in the last week because, at root, all sections of the capitalist class in Britain, including government ministers, want to reach a new pensions settlement.

But they want one that guarantees their gilt-edged pensions and profits and privileges and that, one way or another, attacks the occupational and state pension entitlements of working-class people.

However, a growing obstacle lies in their way. The refusal of public-sector unions - led by the PCS - to accept increased retirement ages for existing workers has shown private-sector workers you don't have to accept the 'work till you drop' mentality of big business.

Private-sector workers are also beginning to fight back against pensions robbery. Six thousand British Gas engineers who are GMB members voted four-to-one to take strike action to defend their final-salary pensions. The union has announced five 24-hour strikes.

The pensions' uproar in the last week reveals a number of things.

Firstly, the threat of united public-sector action forced the government to concede more than it intended. Secondly, despite the complications about new starters, the unions were correct to sign the framework agreement to protect the rights of existing members of public-sector pension schemes.

Had they not done that, Brown would now be driving a coach and horses through any negotiations. For now, the agreement is a bridge head which has got the government and bosses on the back foot.

Brown in particular is playing with fire over pensions and public-sector pay. If he attempts to rip up the pensions deal, then millions of public-sector workers and others will have no alternative but to return down the road of united, mass industrial action to defend their pensions.

Moreover, the bosses' statements last week emphasize the urgency needed for pushing the TUC to call a national demonstration on pensions.

This demonstration, agreed at September's TUC, must aim to link private-sector, public-sector and pensioners into a movement to repel big business and government attacks and achieve a pensions settlement that decisively shifts the balance in favour of working people.

Reject the bosses' propaganda

LIAR, LIAR, Digby Jones' Saville Row pants are on fire. Sir Digby, the head of the CBI bosses' organisation is retiring from that job this week at the grand old age of 50! During his time as the boss of this organisation he has accumulated a pension pot worth millions.

Jones and other top bosses are calling for the government to tear up its recent framework deal that allowed current public-sector pension scheme members to retire at 60. And they are spreading the most disgusting lies about the pensions of low-paid public-sector workers in the process.

Lie number 1: Civil servants, health workers and other public-sector workers can retire at 60.

Not true. All these workers currently have the right to start drawing their occupational pension at the age of 60 provided they have done enough service and made enough contributions. Many of them only end up with a pension of a few thousand pounds and work on till they are 63 or 64 because they cannot afford to retire on such a paltry sum. If the state pension age is raised to 67 then it will be impossible for them to retire at 60 even if they are entitled to.

Lie number 2: Funding public-sector pensions will cost all taxpayers 700 billion.

As one economist once said, statistics will confess to anything if you torture them long enough. The fact is, that all figures about future current public-sector pension liabilities are at best educated guesses.

Moreover, the figures for future liabilities range from 500 billion to 700 billion and these liabilities extend over 50 years. And, most of the money for paying out for these pensions actually comes from the money low-paid workers have set aside over decades of work.

Lie number 3: Private-sector workers are having their pensions cut to pay for public-sector pensions.

This is rubbish. Private-sector pensions have been cut for years because the bosses took 'pension holidays' ie stopped contributing into the pensions' pot because share values on stock markets were rising - only to be followed by a crash, leaving a huge 'black hole' in pension funds. From a 80 billion surplus in 2000 company pension funds went into a 77 billion deficit by 2002!

Some bosses even took money out of their pension funds to fund investment and dividend payouts and haven't replaced it yet. Now, they claim their funded pension schemes are in crisis and their workers have to take a pay cut. It hasn't stopped the bosses increasing their final-salary pension schemes however.

The directors of the UK's top 100 companies now share pensions worth almost 1,000,000,000. For directors with the biggest pension at each company, the average is 288,000 a year, 45 times the average for all employees.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
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In The Socialist 1 December 2005:

Attack on pensions: We won't work till we drop!

Pensions struggles still loom

Don't let the profit system cost us the earth!

'Free market' threatens cold weather crisis

NHS feature: Bring the campaigns together

Campaign for a New Workers' Party

Fight for a political voice for young people!

Hidden - the effects of term-time working

Weakness invites aggression

Workers fight introduction of cheap labour

USA - Lame duck president George Bush waddles on

Exploited workers in Middle East fight back

LSP/MAS mobilises against neo-fascists


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