To claim that this attack on public sector pensions is being launched just to pay for the banking crisis is a very superficial argument and borders on sloganeering. The greater goal is the destruction of the public sector...
Local government, civil service, justice and probation, health, higher education, schools, construction, museums, transport, utilities, environmental services – workers have voted in their hundreds of thousands to strike. Large unions, small unions, specialist unions, general unions, craft unions; from road sweepers to theatre staff, from school teachers to senior managers, from social care workers to police staff – all the ballots are in, all the ballots have voted yes to strike action against the government’s great pension robbery.
Negotiations on the pension proposals have been on-going for eight months but so far have produced little of any value. Unions and the TUC have tried to negotiate in good faith for secure and affordable pensions – but ministers won’t listen. The unions are calling for the current proposals to be withdrawn and a proper, fair, jointly negotiated agreement put in its place. Unions are also building on action already being taken in some sections.
Last-minute Government spoiler tactics are seen for what they are: a body swerve by ministers here, a crumb there, but in essence no shift in the government’s stance of robbing public sector pensions. Conspiracy and Misinformation
Union members at the London Ambulance Service stand up for pensions.
Photo: Unison London Region
Following Lord Hutton’s (ex-Labour Minister) Review, the Tory–LibDem government is determined to put pension contributions up, increase retirement age and devalue pensions when due. And to what purpose? Certainly not to pay for future generations who may or may not live longer. The forced increases in pension contributions from workers (up to 50 per cent) will go straight to the Treasury to help pay off the deficit caused by the banks bailout.
Some people are calling this an extra tax on pensions. We call it theft of our wages. The bankers and opportunists cause the deficit, and to compensate the government steals from our take-home pay. There is something fundamentally wrong with this and we shouldn’t put up with it. This is a pension raid by the State, as employer, on its own workforce and mirrors the previous pension attacks that have been carried out in the private sector.
Misinformation and planning
The political planning against us includes a lot of misinformation on public sector pension schemes. We have to expose the myths about our pensions. The average pension in public service pension schemes is very low, for example in local government, where the average is just over £4,000, falling to £2,800 for women.
Pensioners are already being hit with the move from the Retail Prices Index to the Consumer Prices Index to calculate annual inflation increases – this will reduce their value by 15 per cent.
The facts are that both the local government and NHS pension schemes were renegotiated in 2006 to make them sustainable and affordable. Both schemes are cash rich – more is going in than coming out. Last year, the NHS scheme received £2 billion more in contributions than it paid out and this money went straight to the Treasury.
When the NHS scheme was renegotiated in 2006, protection was built in for current members to retain their retirement age of 60. New members have a retirement age of 65, forced on the unions by government pretending concern about people living too long. The Coalition’s proposals now go way beyond that.
Unions also agreed an increase in worker contributions and a new formula for future increases. The Coalition’s proposals go way beyond that as well. The local government scheme invests more than £100 billion in the British economy. If the scheme collapsed, it would have a devastating impact on the economy.
To claim that this attack on public sector pensions is being launched just to pay for the banking crisis is a very superficial argument and borders on sloganeering. The greater goal is the destruction of the public sector, the destruction of the public sector ethos of quality service to the people.
“The “triumph” of
market capitalism in the
public sector will lead
to the morals of the
banking sector writ
The attack serves several objectives shared by the three main political parties. It privatises pension provision on a massive scale. It reduces the terms and conditions of millions of public sector workers to the already perilous pension provision in the private sector. It creates the climate of abolishing the public sector and replacing it with the privatised provision of public sector services. The “triumph” of market capitalism in the public sector will lead to private sector monopoly, institutionalised corruption and the morals of the banking sector writ large.
An estimated 12 million people pay into public sector schemes, receive public sector pensions or are beneficiaries of public sector schemes. Some of these schemes are very old. The British Civil Service Pension Scheme, for example, first started over 200 years ago. Pensions and schemes have changed over the years obviously, but the principle of a decent pension (deferred wages) to give dignity after a life of work shouldn't change.
We owe it to past generations who began to lay down these standards, to ourselves, to our children and to future generations to stand up for what is right regarding pensions and a decent and dignified life after work.
Such a stance is not only about keeping what is ours but is also deeply political because it challenges capitalism’s control over us now and in the future. ■