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Unions prepare for new pension attacks
THE THREAT of united strike action before the general election forced the Labour government to back down temporarily on its plans to cut public-sector workers' pension rights - particularly the planned increase in the retirement age from 60 to 65.
Since then the unions involved in public-sector pension schemes have been meeting together under the umbrella of the Public Service Forum. (The joint trade union, government and employers' forum that is negotiating on the future of public-sector pension schemes).
At the first meeting of the Public Service Forum at the beginning of July, the government made clear its position: "You are living too long. Private-sector workers are being attacked so why shouldn't public-sector workers be? And public-sector workers are not low paid!"
Union leaders must put their members on a war footing if we are to defeat the attacks permanently.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is proposing to put the following resolution to the TUC conference this September:
"Congress congratulates the public-sector unions on their willingness to take united action against the government's proposed imposition of a compulsory rise in the pension age to 65. We welcome the government's subsequent acceptance that all aspects of the proposals will be open to genuine negotiation. However, Congress believes that the government will continue to argue strongly for the pension age to increase. We believe that to defend our members' interests it will be necessary to maintain and enhance the public-sector campaign alliance and to organise together for maximum pressure should further united industrial action prove necessary. To that end, Congress calls on the General Council and Executive Committee to:
- Co-ordinate the scheme-specific sectoral negotiations, including the circulation of reports from each set of talks.
- Propose to unions that they fully consult with each other before reaching agreement in order to counter any 'divide and rule' tactics from the government.
- Set up regional and local multi-union campaign groups in alliance with Trades Councils, the National Pensioner Convention and other relevant organisations.
- Produce, and distribute to public sector unions for their use, common campaign materials (leaflets, petitions).
- Organise a national pensions demonstration before the end of the year.
- Produce publicity to counter the prevailing myth that decent public-sector pensions are unaffordable and the myth of the "crisis" in pension provision.
- Assist unions taking industrial action and support the co-ordination of that action."
This resolution in our view points the clearest way forward. In particular it calls for the united front of all unions against the government, so clearly demonstrated in practice before the general election, should be maintained.
A national demonstration in defence of public-sector pensions, involving tens of thousands of workers, would be a beacon to all workers - in the public and private sectors. UNISON members should be aware that a similar policy calling for a national demo was carried at their recent conference. But UNISON's national executive have ignored this in their TUC resolution on pensions.
This is a clear warning that some union leaders, despite the rhetoric, do not want to stir things up with a national demonstration. They are hoping for a cosy deal with New Labour.
Now the general election is out of the way, Blair and Brown see no reason to keep the union leaders sweet. As Blair said immediately after the election, they are intent on pursuing "an unremitting New Labour policy for the public sector".
This can only mean more privatisation, more attacks on jobs and pay and more attacks on pension rights. We have been warned.
All union activists should demand that their union gets behind the PCS resolution at the TUC conference and prepare for a mighty united struggle against New Labour in defence of pension rights.
In The Socialist 28 July 2005: