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From The Socialist newspaper, 12 March 2005

Pensions: 'We're fighting back'

Strike on 23 March

PUBLIC SECTOR workers are faced with a huge attack on their pension rights. New Labour want to force them to work longer and pay more for fewer pension benefits.
But a fight back is being organised.
Over one million public-sector union members are balloting for a one-day stoppage on 23 March in defence of pensions. This day will be the biggest day of solidarity this country has seen for some time.

Civil service

WORKING IN the civil service used to be attractive to women workers. In the 1980s, when unemployment was high, a job in the civil service for many women meant security, a job for life.

Emily Kelly, Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) rep

Through the unions' hard work in negotiation with management, the civil service has improved childcare provision, provided flexible working hours, a steady wage and a good pension. The civil service union, PCS, has fought long and hard to ensure that these benefits remain an intrinsic part of the job.

But now we see much of the good practice, which the government have congratulated themselves on, eroded away. And now the final nail in the coffin is the attack on our pensions.

Local government

PEOPLE WERE shocked when they found out what actually was being proposed for our pensions. The union has had to explain that it's a 1% cut in wages for the lowest paid, plus it's the equivalent of one hour extra work per week for the rest of your life.

Nancy Taaffe, Waltham Forest UNISON

If pensions are deferred wages then what the government are trying to do is to defer the fight until you're too old and maybe too weak to realise you've been swindled. So it's a case of rattling the cage now, raising the alarm and convincing people that they really must strike now - particularly before the general election, when we've got leverage over the government.

There's been a flood of calls to the union office and to reps to explain how these pensions changes will affect people. And then the mood has hardened around the idea of strike action. We're expecting a 'yes' vote in the ballot. The activists are up for action.

How New Labour hit civil service pensions

MOST CIVIL service jobs have changed beyond recognition over the last few years. Familiar steady work has been whittled away. Now we feel we are being whipped to produce a high output of work, with the bare minimum of work security and job satisfaction. Emily Kelly reports.

Women working in the civil service in particular, have seen all the best-negotiated changes - flexible work patterns, equal pay, reward systems and paid time off for caring responsibilities - steadily worn away under New Labour.

Our women members found that the increasing pressure placed by the government and senior civil service management for unrealistic work targets have seriously affected any hard-earned flexible working hours.

Leave restrictions, sick leave monitoring and the constant need to continually re-train to keep up with changes due to new technology have left many women stressed and increasingly unable to cope with balancing work with home life. The continued push by the government to keep an element of performance-related pay, although there is solid proof that it discriminates against part-time workers, has made many women members feel under-valued and less motivated.

We needed improvements to our pensions to help our women members, for instance to take account of the unpaid time off that women take due to caring responsibilities. There is also the question of married women who have taken time off to bring up their children, who find that if they divorce they have to try and claim part of their ex-husband's pension.

But the government have chosen to change our pensions for worse not for better. Women will have to work longer and harder and will still remain one of the poorest sections of the population in retirement.

As trade unionists we all had hopes that when Labour came into power, our pay and conditions would improve. And staff handbooks did encourage new civil service entrants to join the trade union. But this honeymoon period was soon over and we have found New Labour to be just the same as the old Tories.

New Labour's claim to work closely with the trade unions has led to soft deals and fake comradeship - look at the Warwick union/government deal.

But PCS didn't go to that tea party. I'm sure if we had, we'd have expected a lot more than a pleasant chat and a weak handshake before we signed any agreements!

Council workers are determined

JUST OVER a week ago I went round to remind everyone to vote for strike action in the pension ballot. A very young worker who had just joined the council and the union, said he hadn't voted yet because he wasn't sure what it was all about.

Annoesjka Valent, Hackney UNISON

Before I could reply someone else in the office said that of course he'd have to vote for strike action. They agreed with my main points, like the fact that MPs have made sure they have a good pension. It's clear workers are very determined about the issue.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 12 March 2005:

Pensions: 'We're fighting back'

NHS: 'Over performing' but under-funded

Oppose Clarke's terror bill

Review: Detention undercover

When is a cut not a cut?

The real cost of war and occupation

Crisis for republicans in Northern Ireland - political alternative needed

Germany: Challenges, dangers and opportunities

Lebanon: A new crisis in the Middle East?

Bush threatens women's rights

Brazil: A bloody week in the countryside


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