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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 September 2005

Hands off our pensions

Exclusive interview with PCS national president

JANICE GODRICH, president of the civil service union PCS, recently spoke to the socialist about the major issues facing her union. Janice is a member of the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Scotland.

The TUC congress passed a resolution which talks about action to defend workers' pension rights. This wouldn't have happened if the PCS hadn't campaigned amongst the other public sector unions for united action and actually delivered a strike ballot which forced the government to climb down. Janice explained how the campaign should be developed from here:

"The TUC has a potentially major role to play in ensuring that all the unions whose members are threatened by these proposals stay united. At the TUC congress last week PCS organised a fringe meeting on pensions at which 13 general secretaries of public sector unions, including UNISON, NUT, NASUWT, PROSPECT and the TGWU committed their unions to continue united campaigning.

This should all be channelled and overseen by the TUC. It is clear that there could be the potential for the employer to try and split our unity by offering concessions to some unions. Let's not forget only five months ago the employer was saying that the very issues we are now negotiating on were "not negotiable".

The united focused approach, just common sense really when you remember we all face the same threat, has led us this far and the TUC has a major responsibility to encourage and ensure this continues.

The right to dignity and financial security in retirement lies at the heart of a decent society. The fear of poverty and the isolation and anxiety this brings makes many people angry. Members of PCS have been told by their employer for many years that low pay rates are compensated by a decent pension, now even this is under threat. Members see all their plans for their future at risk.

In some areas of the West of Scotland life expectancy is 63, these members won't even live to pick up their pension under these plans.

What has been heartening about our campaign is the way in which members of all ages and grades have been united. Young members in particular. I think this is because young people are stigmatised by this government in many ways, low wages, tuition fees and so on. Many can't afford to live independently from their family and then are told they need to save more for their retirement, it's insulting.

Additionally, thousands of our members only a few years ago made major financial decisions and many opted in to a new pension scheme only to see this torn up within a couple of years. All this has contributed to their determination to protect both them and their families' future.

I speak at many members' meetings and the issue of pensions is continually raised. At its last meeting our National Executive Committee finalised plans for a major series of meetings across the UK, involving a branch representative from each of our branches, of which there are over 1,000, to receive an update on our pensions, pay and protecting jobs campaigns.

At the same time we will be using the opportunity to make final preparation for our political fund ballot that starts at the beginning of October. We will be asking the branch reps who attend these meetings to hold members' meetings both before and after the meeting in their area to discuss these issues with members and to report back to them afterwards. At the same time we are issuing regular updates to members by circular and on our website.

Pensions is obviously an issue that we need to discuss as a society but it's wrong that the starting point is to attack the pensions of working people, many who have been in low paid jobs all their lives.

We've all seen the tragedies of pension funds collapsing and people being left stranded in retirement - however you don't seen many company directors or chief executives complaining. At the TUC this week, Linda Taaffe, a delegate from the NUT asked the former CBI chairman Adair Turner, who is drawing up recommendations for the government on the future of pensions, why pensions benefits should be cut.

Linda called for the government to cut the tax avoidance scams of the super-rich amounting to 100 billion a year. She also exposed the fact that the European average of GDP spent on pensions was 10%, whilst the figure for the UK is only 5.4%.

All Turner could say was 'it was outside his remit'."

Defending Jobs and building the union

JANICE GODRICH explains how the PCS is fighting the government's cuts in civil service jobs:

"When the government talks about 'cutting bureaucracy' in reality this means less access to local public services, more call centres rather than face-to-face contact, longer waiting times, delays in payment of benefit or tax credits and more frustration and anxiety.

We are working with communities, voluntary organisations, other unions and individuals to expose that what really lies behind these proposed cuts is an orchestrated undermining of our public services with our members jobs being traded as a result.

It still amazes me that our employer announced live on national television the cutting of over 100,000 jobs when the chancellor made his pre-budget speech last year. Since then PCS has worked hard to dispel the myth of civil servants as bowler-hatted bureaucrats.

Our campaign of press, media, parliamentary work that has involved members, branches and regions which included a day's strike action on 5 November last year has resulted in some protection for members through a national protocol.

This has been followed up in some areas with departmental protocols that have increased protection for some members. In the new HMRC (the merger of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise) department for example we have just secured a no compulsory redundancy guarantee for over 80,000 people until the end of this year.

In other areas however members still face serious threats to jobs. Where these are happening we ensure that we throw the full weight of the union into defending these members."

Strong voice

"I FIRMLY believe that PCS has grown in membership because members see the union campaigning on the issues that affect them at work. Our approach to dealing with the attack on members' jobs, the threat to pensions and our national pay campaign are, rightly, focused on defending members' interests at work, working hard to engage the employer in negotiations but we've been prepared to led from the front when required.

Survey after survey shows that people join a trade union, not because of cheaper insurance or credit card deals - you can get these in any supermarket - but because they want protection at work when they need it and they want a strong voice speaking out for them with the employer to improve their living standards.

Alongside this I also believe that PCS has grown because the national leadership trust members to be fully involved in the union and more vitally to become active in the union.

We are a very democratic union; the series of regional meetings across the UK will no doubt be lively, active events with plenty of debate and discussion.

We encourage young members to become very active in the union and have a national network of young members. Our NEC is made up of reps, many of whom work daily alongside members in offices and who are key negotiators at departmental level. This means that the decisions the NEC take are based on being in touch with members' hopes, fears and aspirations, our conference policies likewise."

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In The Socialist 22 September 2005:

Unite against war, terror and racism

Fighting Bush's war machine

Terror laws threaten democratic rights

Socialists fight for workers' unity

US imperialism - a weakened giant

The case for socialism

Hands off our pensions

TUC - fine speeches but workers need action

Morrisons: No job losses, no store closures!

Rolls Royce action called off

Massive gains for new Left Party in German elections

Lebanon's civil war, 1975-1990: The tragedy of sectarian division


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