The Socialist 9 February 2006 |
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Strike for pension rights
Vote 'yes' to defend pensions
For a national demonstration
Unite the pension struggles
UNISON's ballot of its one million members is due to start on 20
February. UNISON will be joined by 11 other unions in defence of the
local government pension scheme. The ballot will finish on 10 March,
with the first strike in the last week of March.
Glenn Kelly, UNISON national executive council, personal capacity
At the last meeting of UNISON's special local government executive (SGE),
it was reported that the Tory employers were taking a hard line and
daring the union to strike. The government is still harping on about
affordability and the legality of the 85-year rule, where workers can
retire on a full pension when they have served enough years.
But the European Commissioner responsible for pensions has disagreed
with the government and said it would not be unlawful to keep the
85-year rule under the new EU legalisation. As for affordability, the
union has also demonstrated that the introduction of the new Finance Act
in April, where workers can commute up to 25% of their pension in a lump
sum, will save the government and employers £3.7 billion and an ongoing
saving of 1% on the pension bill. This measure alone is enough to cover
any shortfall, leave our pension alone and pay for improvements to the
UNISON's national officers initially proposed a one-day strike of all
members and then strikes of 'key groups' such as meat hygiene. Action
would be at the end of March but not in April because of the school and
college holidays. In reality this is an excuse to avoid action in the
run-up to the local elections.
They think the best chance of winning is for political pressure to be
put on until the formal consultation period ends on 28 February.
I opposed the key group strategy at the SGE, as it has not been
successful anywhere since 1989. Instead of it being an auxiliary tactic
to action by all members it soon becomes the only tactic, leaving the
mass of the members passive in the dispute, relying on small groups on
full take-home pay. The size of the strike fund can then dictate the
But this strategy can appear attractive and it was agreed by the
majority of the SGE, including the United Left member. I then argued
that we should not support just a one-day strike but should lay down to
the members a programme of action that showed we were serious about
trying to win - a programme that would send a message to the employer
that they weren't just facing a token gesture. This was won with almost
I also proposed that we should again call on the TUC to name the day
for the national demo and that it should be during the strike period. If
the TUC refuses, the 11 unions balloting should call it. This was
referred to UNISON's NEC.
The Socialist Party is concerned that decisions about the strategy of
the strike appear to be taken behind closed doors and not by the elected
leaderships of the members involved. In particular by the service group
liaison committee (SGLC - which is a sub committee of the NEC, made up
of all the service group chairs and vice chairs and the general
secretary and national unelected officers).
The Socialist Party proposed we set up a strike committee that was
made up of the five different service groups involved, proportional to
the number of members in each service group.
This was not supported but instead a strike committee of the SGLC
plus sector group chairs was agreed. It still means that the decisions
of the SGE are in effect only recommendations to the SGLC and they can
ignore them or not, despite how many or how few members they represent.
It also means, for instance, that the chair of the health group is
getting a say in our strike even though they have settled their dispute!
The Socialist Party believes that this risks putting the real control
of the strike in the hands of a few unelected full-time officials.