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United action needed to defend pensions
BLAIR'S NEW Labour government is once again preparing to attack public-sector workers' pensions. When they did this earlier this year millions of workers threatened to take strike action to defend their pension rights.
The threat of such mass action showed that the government could retreat overnight, despite its insistence that we are "all living too long" and that decent pensions could no longer be afforded.
Mass, united action by trade unionists, pensioners and others will be needed once again to force the government into another retreat.
After heavy hints that the state pension age could be increased from 65 to 67 or even 69, and suggestions that 'feather-bedded' public-sector workers were getting too good a deal on their pensions, local government workers and firefighters have been told by their employers that from next April major changes will be implemented to their pensions.
The government's new proposals in local government and the fire service are even worse than the ones made last year, which led to overwhelming support in ballots for strike action. Other parts of the public sector - teachers, civil servants and health workers - are yet to hear details of changes to their schemes. But, judging by the proposals in local government, it is undoubtedly going to see a similar attack on their conditions.
Local government workers are first in the firing line because the government wants to set the amount of central government funding they give to local councils for next year by this November.
The need to maintain maximum unity of as much of the public sector as possible in this fight is preferable to each sector having to fight alone. And, once it becomes clear to other public-sector unions what is in store, all efforts should be made to co-ordinate strike action across the public sector.
It looks likely that the local government unions will be forced to move into action first, before the other public-sector unions get all the details of proposed changes to their schemes.
Even if this does occur, the government must not be allowed to play divide and rule tactics between the different unions.
Other public sector-unions must make it clear in the negotiations in the Public Sector Forum that they will not accept any detriment to their pension schemes and are prepared to take action, alongside other unions where possible, to defend the pension rights of their members and those of other public-sector workers.
That means that they need to go now to their members and build up the type of campaign that worked last time round.
This means having cross-union rallies in cities and towns all over Britain. It means that pressure is applied to the TUC to demand that it organises a national pensions demo before Christmas, in line with its conference decision in September.
Unions should also demand that the government gives a commitment that it will not increase the retirement age for public-sector workers from 60 to 65. They should demand that changes to pension schemes should not be at the expense of existing or future members either.
If the government refuses to do this, then this will be a legitimate reason for all the unions to begin strike ballots. The Public Sector Forum, through which all the unions are working, should be the vehicle to co-ordinate this action and, as was also agreed at the TUC, no union should settle whilst other unions are still negotiating.
"An injury to one is an injury to all" must be the battle cry. The union leaders have made many fine speeches about defending pension schemes. They must be held to their promise.
Workers fight pension attacks
A GENERAL strike shut down Belgium last Friday (7 October). The first general strike in more than a decade stopped transport and shut schools, government services and shops. Called by the social democratic trade union federation (ABVV/FGTB), the strike reflected widespread anger over the federal government's attack on pension rights.
The bosses and their political representatives, like in most other EU countries, say the number of active workers supporting a growing retired population is too few and this will exhaust the social security funds.
The coalition government proposes a whole range of measures. In the main, they want to stop schemes whereby workers retire early on full benefits.
However, the social security budget had a surplus in 18 of the past 25 years. In the same period, the national authorities' share of social security income was reduced from 35% in 1980 to just 11% this year.
During the past five years the government plundered social security by handing over five billion euros of social security dues to the bosses in the hope they would create jobs which never came. Nevertheless, social security remained financially balanced.
The expenses for pensions have actually decreased over the past 25 years from 5.4% to 5.2% of GDP. Total social expenses only increased during the same period from 16.2% to 16.7% of GDP despite more expensive health care and a dramatic increase in unemployment.
LSP/MAS, the Belgian section of the CWI, fully participated in the strikes aiming to build up a network of trade union militants to continue the fightback. LSP/MAS also advocated that workers break their union links with the social democrats and Christian democrats and build a new workers' party independent of the ruling class.
For full report see www.socialistworld.net
In The Socialist 13 October 2005: