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22 February 2006

Unite: Save pensions, jobs and services

WE WORK for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). We're charged with delivering the government's education policies. They want to reduce our staff by 31%.That'll make Blair's election mantra "Education, education!" The other third has been cut or privatised!

Robbie, Marion, Lindsey and Karen, PCS Sheffield DfES

The civil service is a major employer in Sheffield. Jobs were relocated here after Thatcher's manufacturing massacre.

But what's left of the steel industry is still being downsized - 700 jobs are going at the Finnish-owned plant Outu Kumpu and last week Corus announced 100 job losses in Rotherham.

And now the civil service is being massacred too, by Gordon Brown. As well as the DfES cuts, 1,300 job losses are planned in the Learning and Skills Council and a total of 30,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

All this prompted our union branch to call, with trades council support, a Sheffield March for Pensions, Jobs and Services, with the aim of linking together public and private sector workers along with community campaigns.

And we couldn't have timed it better. DWP members are already taking strike action over job cuts and privatisation. Local government workers are balloting for action to protect their pensions. (See below)

We Want Our Buses Back are campaigning against fare rises and service cuts. Three fire stations face closure. Local NHS Trusts are 16 million in deficit, and it is certain that they won't claw back this money at the expense of the privateers!

And the council are proposing a 165% rise in community care charges! We see this march as the beginning of the city's fightback against New Labour's neo-liberal policies.

And all these attacks on jobs and services highlight for us, as socialists, the need for a political alternative for working class people.

We need a new mass workers' party and urge people to attend our campaign meeting after the demo and to come to the national Campaign for a New Workers' Party conference on 19 March in London.

Sheffield March for Pensions, Jobs and Services

25 February. Assemble 11am outside the DfES building (bottom of Moorfoot, Sheffield).

Campaign for a New Workers' Party meeting (straight after rally)

Grosvenor House Hotel, Charter Square. Main speaker Dave Nellist, Socialist Party councillor, Coventry.

Campaign for a New Workers' Party

National conference

19 March, University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1.

PCS members fight cuts and privatisation

OVER 100 Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) reps from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently met in Leeds. They gave their overwhelming endorsement to the Left Unity-led Group Executive Committee (GEC) strategy to build the Jobs, Services and Rights Campaign.
John McInally, DWP PCS Group Executive Committee and National Executive Committee, personal capacity

There is a growing awareness that if management refuse fair and just settlements in DWP then national civil service-wide action draws inexorably closer, as PCS members struggle to protect their interests against the cuts and privatisation agenda.

Management were shaken by the huge support for the two-day strike in January. The action had real impact. Many reps said turnout was even better than the civil service-wide day of action on 5 November 2004. Recruitment to PCS has increased and there was a marked increase in managers joining the action.

The political campaign continues. General secretary Mark Serwotka and DWP group officers Jane Aitchison and Keith Wylie gave evidence at the DWP parliamentary select committee.

They exposed management complacency and arrogance in refusing to acknowledge the growing service delivery problems arising from their "modernisation" ie cuts programme.

National action

National action and the overtime ban are the keys to building pressure on management to settle. The union has organised weekend pickets to build the overtime ban.

The equivalent of 5,400 staff years are currently being worked in overtime, which is a key factor in avoiding a total collapse. Imposing a full ban would be like having 5,400 workers permanently on strike!

PCS has correctly rejected the failed methods of so-called "selective" action, where the leadership would "choose" areas for long-term strike action, in order to carry the burden of the campaign.

The GEC is building support for "targeted" action, where branches can deliver effective short-term strikes, especially, for example, where staff shortages are at their worst or where overtime is being worked.

Reps are confident another two-day strike for March can be delivered if no settlement is reached. Bizarrely, the unrepresentative small left groups who spend most of their efforts denigrating the GEC and National Executive Committee, rather than attacking management, are calling for a de-escalation, claiming two days is too much for members.

Effective campaign work is building pressure on management and must be increased. The excellent demonstration at DWP's recruitment "Jobs Fairs" in Scotland sharply exposed what services could be lost if management plough on regardless with their cuts.

PCS pressure has secured talks with management. Unless there are concessions that go some way to relieving the pressures on members, further action will be necessary.

PCS is fully committed to a negotiated settlement, but not at any price. If these talks fail the GEC will call a further two-day strike for March.

The DWP GEC wants a halt to the cuts while a proper review process is put in place to identify and resolve operational and staffing problems, a no compulsory redundancy agreement, a proper and credible staffing scheme, additional staffing to be deployed on the basis of operational need and a stop to the many attacks on terms and conditions, particularly around managing attendance.

The vast bulk of reps and members have real confidence in the campaigning, socialist leadership at Group and national level in PCS - management know this too, their wise move would be to settle now.

Supporting the ban on overtime

FOR THE last three Saturdays, pickets have been outside Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices in Leicester in support of the overtime ban called by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).
Tony Church, Secretary, PCS DWP Leicestershire General branch, personal capacity

The vast majority of union members, having supported the two-day strike in January, are backing the union with the ban. There are, however, a minority who seem to be putting a little extra cash now before the threat of a further 15,000 job losses to add to the 15,000 already made by New Labour.

This minority fails to realise that by working overtime we take the pressure off the employer and help them shed jobs. The two PCS branches in Leicester intend to continue the discussion with members about why the overtime ban is crucial to the campaign, even if we have to get up early at the weekend to have that debate through pickets!

Already our picket lines appear to be bringing success. After initially offering overtime to benefit processing staff at both the Leicester Pensions Centre and the Jobcentre Plus Benefit Delivery Centre, management have decided that it isn't worth it. They have to put up with our presence outside the buildings and hardly anyone has taken up their offer. In short their overtime plans have been a total waste of taxpayers' money.

We now have to convince the few frontline staff in Jobcentre Plus conducting interviews on Saturday, to stand in solidarity with their benefit-processing comrades and PCS in refusing to help the government out of the crisis they have caused in our service by their unjustified cuts in staffing.

So I suppose it might be a few more early Saturday mornings for me and other PCS comrades, but it will be well worth it when we win the campaign to protect jobs and services and give Blair and Brown a bloody nose into the bargain.

Local government:

Vote 'yes' for a strike to defend pensions

A STRIKE ballot has now started of 1.5 million workers across Britain who are members of the local government pensions scheme (LGPS).

Jean Thorpe, chair, Nottingham City UNISON, UNISON national executive, personal capacity

The dispute centres on proposals to scrap the "85-year rule" which allows members of the pension scheme to retire at 60 on a full pension, if their age and length of service adds up to 85. 90% of men and 65% of women currently in the scheme would be eligible to retire under this rule.

The plans to abolish the rule and therefore raise the minimum retirement age for most to 65, has enraged local government workers and other members in the scheme, who are scattered across the public sector in areas such as fire control rooms, police and the probation service.

The real facts about the local government pension scheme have been buried under a mountain of vile propaganda and lies in some of the tabloid press.

Unlike MPs, local government workers do not retire on gilt-edged pensions and many will face poverty in retirement.

73% of elderly pension fund members are women and nearly 60% will work part time. The average pension for a woman in the scheme is 31 a week and 75% of all LGPS pensions are under 96 a week. Scheme members pay 6% of their earnings for this.

The leadership of UNISON, TGWU, GMB and other trade unions continue to defend their financial support for New Labour, saying they get to influence New Labour policies.

It is ironic that unions like PCS, NUT and FBU, who do not donate to New Labour, have successfully fought off attacks on their pension scheme.

This was achieved by the threat of united strike action across the public sector, exposing the myth that donating money to New Labour can win concessions for trade unionists.

Unite the battles to defend pensions - for the TUC to call a national pensions demonstration.

Firefighters' pensions

Government make concessions

THE RECALL Fire Brigades Union (FBU) conference in Southport on 16 February discussed a proposed deal on their pensions dispute on offer from the government.

Ken Smith

The proposals marked a further retreat by the government on its plans to increase the pension age from 50 to 55 for existing scheme members, although the package on offer had some detrimental proposals for existing members and a proposed new scheme for new entrants.

The scheme for new entrants would see the normal pension age increase to 60 and a lower contribution rate of 8.5%, as opposed to the 11% currently paid by firefighters.

Other concessions from the government included the right of retained firefighters to be included in the pension scheme and to retain their current injury pension provisions.

And, the government's offer also proposed a two-tier ill-health pension provision - a significant issue for firefighters, given the high rate of accident and injury on the job.

The conference agreed to carry out a consultation of all its members and branches and committees which would report back to another recall FBU national conference sometime in the middle of March.

Although the consultation process will discuss whether or not strike action is necessary to achieve any "remaining objectives", at this stage the union is not starting a ballot for strike action as it had originally intended.

Whilst there were concerns raised about the rights of future scheme entrants and the two-tier ill-health provision arrangements, the mood of the conference was that this was probably the best deal that could be achieved by negotiation at this stage and that they would have to come back to fight another day on the issue of new entrants.

The union had received legal advice from John Hendy QC that argued that if the union had balloted for strike action just on changes to new entrants, rather than on changes affecting both existing members and new entrants, then that ballot would be likely to be successfully challenged by the employers.

Emergency resolutions from London and West Midlands which argued that "conference does not accept that the negotiations thus far have achieved the basis of a settlement... and... instructs the Executive Council to conduct a ballot immediately of all FBU members with the intent to take discontinuous strike action", were withdrawn.

An amendment from the Northern Ireland FBU argued that the deal was the best that could be "achieved by negotiation" rather than "with or without strike action" as the EC's original emergency resolution said. And it added that the final decision on accepting or rejecting the offer should be taken by another recall conference rather than the NEC.

This resolution, moved by Tony Maguire, a member of the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland, was eventually the only counter-proposal to the EC's resolution. It was passed instead of the EC emergency resolution.

It looks likely that the offer will be accepted by FBU members who will see that the government has retreated once again, faced with the threat of strike action.

However, there is a realisation that issues still remain to be decided on new entrants and ill health, which may require industrial action at some stage.

Local government unions are now the only section of public-sector workers that have not seen a retreat from the government on the issue of increasing the retirement age.

It looks likely that these unions, which are currently balloting for action, will take strike action on 4 April.

Unions that are not affiliated to the Labour Party are the ones that have forced concessions from the government. Affiliated unions, like UNISON led by Dave Prentis, have claimed that their affiliation to Labour would allow them 'influence' in winning a similar deal to 'ring fence' the conditions of existing members.

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