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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 July 2010

Unite the struggle to defend pensions

As if the threats to our jobs and wages weren't enough, the bosses are also baying to cut our pensions. The continual drip, drip of attacks on public sector workers' pensions from the likes of the right wing taxpayers' alliance has now turned into a flood.

Glenn Kelly

The latest attack comes from the misnamed Public Sector Pension Commission (which is neither a commission nor independent, but instead a cabal of bosses' organisations). It has called for an "end to the final salary schemes" and for workers to be forced to work longer for smaller pensions. With the setting up of its own pensions commission, the Con-Dem government is only too willing to oblige the employers.

The so-called logic behind the attacks on public sector pensions is threefold. Firstly, as the bosses have managed to shaft private sector workers' pensions (with three out of four workers losing their rights to a final salary scheme), they argue - 'now it's your turn'. Secondly: 'Why should the taxpayer in the private sector pay for public sector 'gold plated' pensions' and thirdly: 'We need to cut public sector spending because we can no longer afford pensions'.

Big business is responsible for pauperising thousands of workers in private industry by cutting or ending their pension schemes in order to protect their profits. Two-thirds of private sector companies do not pay any contributions to their workers' scheme, which means that many private sector pensioners are so poor they are forced to rely on a top-up to their state pensions costing the state 15 billion in pension credits. Because many public sector workers have a works pension, the state doesn't have to pay these benefits. Pension cuts will mean more pension credit payments.

For the two million council workers the average pension is just 77 a week and for women that falls to just 50 a week (due to the fact that more women tend to work part time and be lower paid). To qualify for these pensions we must pay 6-7% of our monthly salary. One third of all council workers don't even have a pension, as they cannot afford to join the scheme.

On top of this, public sector schemes have already taken a hit. Many of us now have to pay more and work longer to get the same pension as before. In the NHS the trade union leaders agreed to a deal which means that workers pick up the bill if there is any increase to the costs of the scheme, instead of organising to lead a fight to defend all pensions.

The fact that public sector workers have held onto many aspects of their pensions rights is because of the threat of a public sector wide strike in 2006. Then, confronted by five million trade union members, the Labour government backed off from a wholesale attack. Even more pension rights could have been defended in the likes of the NHS and council worker schemes if the union leaderships had held their nerve and not made concessions and called off the strikes.

The clear lesson for us today is that we must again unite public sector workers and prepare for a public sector strike when the government's pensions commission reports at the end of the year.

We must not accept, as some inside the Unison union have already done, that we have to give more concessions in order to keep the scheme. To do so is to wave a white flag of surrender before a single shot is fired in anger.

There is no reason why the unions could not demand public sector wide negotiations to avoid the employers using divide-and-rule tactics between funded and unfunded schemes or central government verses local government schemes.

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