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Rail unions unite to defend pensions
"WE WILL take united strike action to defend pensions and we need to do it before 1 July this year." Bob Crow, general secretary of the rail union RMT made this statement at a recent conference of 500 rail workers in central London.
This was the ninth and final "round Britain" rally of rail workers organised by the three main rail unions, RMT, ASLEF and TSSA.
In an unprecedented show of unity, all three general secretaries expressed their support for industrial action if the employers continue to refuse to back off from their threat to rail workers' pensions.
Most of the 103 separate rail workers' pension funds - there was only one fund when the railways were publicly owned - have said that they will unilaterally increase the workers' contributions and increase the retirement age.
There are now 103 separate auditors, 103 separate actuaries, 103 separate administrators, 103 separate trustees and 103 separate sets of lawyers. It's no wonder that the schemes are now unviable even before you take into account the private bosses ripping them off for their own profit. This is yet another case of privatisation bad, public good.
Gerry Doherty, the general secretary of TSSA, said that the rail workers' pensions black hole is now between £550 and £600 million pounds.
"When BR was privatised and sold for £2 billion, the pension fund stood at £8 billion, now '£13.5 billion. The sharks who privatised the scheme have taken pension holidays. Despite workers making uninterrupted contributions, they are now being told that at least half of them will have to double their contributions to 22% of their salaries if they want to draw the same benefits."
As Bob Crow later said: "Future generations of rail workers will work on Monday for their pension, on Tuesday for their tax, on Wednesday for their national insurance and to pay off their student debts. If they're lucky they might have something left from Thursday and Friday to pay their mortgage."
He also made the point that the rail unions had traditionally been divided but this time it was different. He emphasised that the unions have different methods of reaching decisions but they will start united and finish united. "It might mean a one-day strike, it might mean a one-hour strike," said Bob.
At one stage he pointed to me in the audience and said: "Bill Mullins from the Socialist Party is there taking notes and I want to emphasise for his paper that we will strike to defend our pensions".
An important point made by Bob was that when there are strikes on the rail system the private companies do not lose out. The government, that is the tax payer, reimburses them for their losses.
Speakers from the floor, including a Socialist Party member from London Underground, emphasised the need to unite with other groups of workers in defence of pensions, like the council workers.
Another speaker wanted the unions to stand their own candidates in elections.
ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman replied by saying he had been a Labour Party member for 34 years but with the current scandals, he has never been so disappointed. But neither he, Gerry Doherty or unfortunately Bob Crow, replied to the issue of the unions standing their own candidates.
The union's main demands are: No cuts in benefits, no work till you are 65 and a maximum worker contribution of 10.56%.
It is clear that Gerry Doherty might be satisfied with getting the government to intervene. But if the unions are to ensure no detriment to the pension rights of present and future generations, they will have to demand that all the funds are put under one roof. The private employers must be forced to put back all they have stolen. This must be linked to a stepped-up campaign to renationalise the whole of the rail system.
The unions have called a lobby of Parliament for Tuesday 9 May, starting at 1pm.
In The Socialist 27 April 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party election campaign
1926 General Strike
Environment: Nuclear power
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis