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Phoney war, real disgrace

WORKERS, NOV 2005 ISSUE

The battle over public-sector pensions is not over yet, whatever victories may be trumpeted following the latest agreement between unions and government. In fact, the battle has yet to start. All we have seen so far is posturing, designed not to preserve decent pensions but to save the blushes of a Labour government that knows no shame anyway.

First there was the Warwick agreement, a set of vague promises that secured union support for the last election. Then came, in March this year, shortly before the election, the Grand Old Duke of York scenario, where battalions were marched halfway up to struggle, then down again, for the sole purpose of showing how well (!) the government and the unions worked together. Now there is the sorry tale (see pages 6–7), of an agreement that safeguards the pension rights of existing workers, allegedly, but submits future workers to a double sacrifice: they must work another five years, and pay more for the pensions they will receive.

And why will new workers pay more? To subsidise the government's "concession" over the existing workers. This shameful agreement, trumpeted as victory by the unions, sells the rights of the next generation.

At the same time, unions have agreed to split off health, education and civil service workers from their colleagues in local government, with consequences that cannot yet be precisely quantified but which cannot bring anything positive.

But why give way at all? The financial arguments advanced by the government are completely phoney, and driven by the need to cut public expenditure to meet EU targets. As the article "Anatomy of a theft" says, a bit more understanding of economics would not go amiss among trade unionists. Nor would a bit more understanding of politics. This government has agreed to a 50-year deal, which gives it half a century to find ways of getting out of what it has agreed to. On that basis, just how safe are the public-sector pensions covered by this shameful deal now, in 10 years' time, in 20 years' time?

And now that the unity of public-sector workers has been surrendered, what are local government workers, the members of the Local Government Pension Scheme, left with? In all this sorry saga, union members must look to themselves for salvation. At the start of this year only 23% voted in the Unison ballot for action over the government's pension plans. Other unions did not even conduct ballots. Workers themselves must take responsibility for their pensions. By now, one thing should be crystal clear: no one else will.

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