The Socialist 9 March 2006
Wanted: A party for the millions...not the millionaires!
Local government pensions
Strike for pension rights!
THE RESULT of a strike ballot of UNISON members in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) will be known after 10 March. It is possible that 1.5 million council workers will strike on 28 and 29 March.
They are fed up with the continued threat to their occupational pension rights, whilst other public-sector workers have successfully forced the government to back off.
Teachers, civil service workers, lecturers and health workers threatened to take strike action before Christmas when New Labour said that they would have to work until they are 65.
Work another five years
At the moment, council workers are entitled to draw their council pension at 60, if they qualify by having at least 25 years in the job, the so-called "85-year rule". But from this April those under 53 will now have to work another five years before they can see a penny of their occupational pension. Raising the retiring age to 65 means the average LGPS member who qualifies to retire at 60 will lose £20,000.
The capitalist press has run a thoroughly dishonest campaign, attacking public-sector workers, saying they are cosseted.
They say public-sector workers should have their pension rights curtailed, yet the same papers do not mention that many of the workers have paid into the pension scheme for decades.
Council workers' pensions average less that £4,000 a year, yet MP's occupational pensions are about £40,000 per annum. These MPs are the ones who are changing the rules to make council workers' pensions worse.
But this pales into insignificance compared to the £1 million average pension of the directors of the largest 100 British companies.
The government claims that council taxes would have to go up to keep council workers' pension rights intact. They say this is because of the so called "black hole" in pension funds.
The rich in Britain pay less in taxes than any other western country. And if the government want to know how to bridge the so-called pension deficit then they do not have to look further than the City of London where 3,000 share dealers received a Christmas "bonus" of £1 million each.
No wonder there has been a huge increase in the number of dollar millionaires in Britain which rose by 28,000 to a staggering 383,000 in 2003.
The government also gives huge subsidies to private pensions. Tax relief for private pensions is now the equivalent of 2.5% of GDP. Half of that money goes to the richest 10% of taxpayers - with the top 2.5% grabbing over a quarter.
The bosses have launched a widespread attack on workers' pensions. The government Turner commission on pensions is demanding that the state pension age be raised to 67 then 68 and eventually 70. The bosses' union the CBI has said it should be raised to 75 and others have said it should be 80!
Workers are saying we won't accept this and are willing to fight back. The trade unions should be prepared to mobilise this anger in a mass demonstration in defence of all pensions and in opposition to the increase in the retirement age.
UNISON and the Labour Party
LAST WEEK two Labour Party councillors in Stoke on Trent joined the Socialist Party in order to continue to defend local authority jobs and services.
At the same time, it became clear that the ballot of UNISON members for strike action in defence of their pension scheme is putting strains on the relationship between UNISON and the Labour Party.
At a rally in Liverpool one UNISON member carried a placard on which he had written: "We give New Labour money, they take our pensions, what a deal!"
The rally was addressed by members of the Liverpool Branch, and UNISON National Executive Council member Roger Bannister.
Roger told the rally: "UNISON has lobbied MPs, ministers the deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister but they have not listened. The force of argument has failed so we now have to use the argument of force.
"I urge you all to vote YES in the strike ballot, and to go back to your workplaces and make sure that your colleagues vote YES too."
At a meeting for activists throughout the North West in Manchester repeated requests for forms to pull out of the Affiliated Political Fund, (APF), staggered union officials. Senior lay activists in the Region, themselves pro-Labour Party, are openly discussing the flood of members seeking to leave the APF.
The North West is UNISON's largest region. It is likely that the region will be typical of the union nationally on such a major issue.
The ballot is taking place against the background of branch annual general meetings. Inevitably as the pensions issue is debated, ordinary members voice their anger at UNISON funding a political party that attacks their pensions, and forces them into strike action to defend them.
UNISON's political fund is divided into two, the pro-Labour APF, (sometimes known as the Labour Link), and the non-affiliated General Political Fund, (GPF), which funds public campaigns deemed "political" by Thatcherite legislation in defence of public services, or against the fascist-orientated British National Party. Any UNISON member can apply in writing to come out of the APF and join the GPF instead.
In this issue
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news