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National Pensioners Convention parliament
Support for workers on 30 June
Val and Terry Pearce, Bracknell Socialist Party
1,500 pensioners from all over Britain attended the National Pensioners Convention parliament in Blackpool on 14-16 June. The parliament was preceded by a march, led by a band through the streets of Blackpool to the Winter Gardens.
Marchers were clapped by the onlookers who enthusiastically took the leaflets being handed out.
The mood of the delegates was a mixture of anger and determination to fight back against the policies of the coalition government which represent a vicious attack on pensions and public services.
During the opening rally speaker after speaker attacked the policies of the current government, ranging from the effects of the cuts in public services, the massive tax fraud and avoidance carried out by the rich and representatives of the capitalist class, to the abuse of the elderly both in their homes as well as some care homes.
Billy Hayes from the Communication Workers Union and Karen Jennings from Unison both spoke and highlighted the attacks by the government on their members and expressed solidarity with pensioners.
Many in the audience however thought that the time for talk was over and what is needed is concerted action from the trade unions. The following day saw the appearance of pensions' minister, Steve Webb, who gave a slick and slippery presentation of the government's pensions policy.
He was heckled several times from the floor and was challenged over the coalition's plan to cut Winter Fuel Allowances, change the indexation of pensions from the higher RPI rate to the lower CPI, and on the poverty level of pensions.
He was also challenged over the fact that the National Insurance fund has £40 billion in it which should and could be used to increase the state pension.
A number of important questions were discussed more fully in workshops run throughout the event dealing with subjects such as the future of the NHS, age equality, social care and older people and the 'Big Society'.
In the NHS session Dr John Lister from Keep Our NHS Public exposed the phoney nature of the so-called 'pause' by the government on changes to the NHS and explained that the central core of the reform remains the privatisation of the NHS.
He said the Tories intend to take the provision of health care back to pre-1945 and that Cameron is finishing what Thatcher started. The reality is that 'choice' in the NHS will mean 'go private or go without'.
Speakers from the audience called for the return of Community Health Councils to safeguard patients' rights and demanded a more pro-active approach from the unions.
In the session on social care, Chris Tansley from Unison highlighted the dangers of privatisation of social care provision and the fact that by 2020 there will be no council care homes left, and that five private care providers are likely to go out of business.
We are witnessing the total privatisation of social care and the emergence of `casino care homes` as residents become victims of the private sector. Contributors in the audience recounted horror stories from their own areas, of care home closures and cuts to social care staff.
The session on Cameron's 'Big Society' showed the sheer hypocrisy of this concept. We are seeing the destruction of many local community and voluntary groups who, at a time of increasing demand for their services, have become a casualty of the government's cuts.
At the same time we are seeing the shutdown of public services and these services being contracted out to either private or voluntary/charity organisations.
An example of this was reported in the Independent on 15 February 2011: "LSSI, an American firm which manages 13 public libraries across the US, has set itself a target to manage libraries in eight British local authorities by the end of the year and to capture 15% of the market within five years".
Local services under private control will only be responsible to their shareholders and if handed over to charities the demands of the whole community would be overlooked by a smaller interest group.
The consensus of the meeting was that the Big Society is a Conservative con to privatise and make cuts to essential local services.
On the first day of the parliament the Socialist Party set up a stall outside the Winter Gardens. There was a good response from delegates and passers-by, with 25 copies of the Socialist sold, many names added to our petition and £31 collected.
Over 100 copies of the National Shop Stewards Network bulletin were handed out during the march and at the stall. The parliament was very inspiring and time and time again delegates expressed the view that today's pensioners are fighting not only for themselves but also for tomorrow's pensioners.
We will not allow the government to divide us from the youth; we are in a united struggle. Support for the strikes on 30 June came from the platform and this was enthusiastically agreed by delegates.
The changing mood in society was reflected in the parliament, delegates realise that pensioners cannot win alone - an injury to one is an injury to all.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 24 June 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.