The Socialist 22 February 2006 |
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Unite: Save pensions, jobs and services
WE WORK for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). We're
charged with delivering the government's education policies. They want
to reduce our staff by 31%.That'll make Blair's election mantra
"Education, education!" The other third has been cut or
Robbie, Marion, Lindsey and Karen, PCS Sheffield DfES
The civil service is a major employer in Sheffield. Jobs were
relocated here after Thatcher's manufacturing massacre.
But what's left of the steel industry is still being downsized - 700
jobs are going at the Finnish-owned plant Outu Kumpu and last week Corus
announced 100 job losses in Rotherham.
And now the civil service is being massacred too, by Gordon Brown. As
well as the DfES cuts, 1,300 job losses are planned in the Learning and
Skills Council and a total of 30,000 from the Department for Work and
All this prompted our union branch to call, with trades council
support, a Sheffield March for Pensions, Jobs and Services, with the aim
of linking together public and private sector workers along with
And we couldn't have timed it better. DWP members are already taking
strike action over job cuts and privatisation. Local government workers
are balloting for action to protect their pensions. (See below)
We Want Our Buses Back are campaigning against fare rises and service
cuts. Three fire stations face closure. Local NHS Trusts are £16
million in deficit, and it is certain that they won't claw back this
money at the expense of the privateers!
And the council are proposing a 165% rise in community care charges!
We see this march as the beginning of the city's fightback against New
Labour's neo-liberal policies.
And all these attacks on jobs and services highlight for us, as
socialists, the need for a political alternative for working class
We need a new mass workers' party and urge people to attend our campaign meeting after the demo and to come to the national Campaign for a New Workers' Party conference on 19 March in London.
Sheffield March for Pensions, Jobs and Services
25 February. Assemble 11am outside the DfES building (bottom of Moorfoot, Sheffield).
Campaign for a New Workers' Party meeting (straight after rally)
Grosvenor House Hotel, Charter Square. Main speaker Dave Nellist, Socialist Party councillor, Coventry.
Campaign for a New Workers' Party
19 March, University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1. www.cnwp.org.uk
PCS members fight cuts and privatisation
OVER 100 Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) reps from the
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently met in Leeds. They gave
their overwhelming endorsement to the Left Unity-led Group Executive
Committee (GEC) strategy to build the Jobs, Services and Rights
John McInally, DWP PCS Group Executive Committee and National
Executive Committee, personal capacity
There is a growing awareness that if management refuse fair and just
settlements in DWP then national civil service-wide action draws
inexorably closer, as PCS members struggle to protect their interests
against the cuts and privatisation agenda.
Management were shaken by the huge support for the two-day strike in
January. The action had real impact. Many reps said turnout was even
better than the civil service-wide day of action on 5 November 2004.
Recruitment to PCS has increased and there was a marked increase in
managers joining the action.
The political campaign continues. General secretary Mark Serwotka and
DWP group officers Jane Aitchison and Keith Wylie gave evidence at the
DWP parliamentary select committee.
They exposed management complacency and arrogance in refusing to
acknowledge the growing service delivery problems arising from their
"modernisation" ie cuts programme.
National action and the overtime ban are the keys to building
pressure on management to settle. The union has organised weekend
pickets to build the overtime ban.
The equivalent of 5,400 staff years are currently being worked in
overtime, which is a key factor in avoiding a total collapse. Imposing a
full ban would be like having 5,400 workers permanently on strike!
PCS has correctly rejected the failed methods of so-called
"selective" action, where the leadership would
"choose" areas for long-term strike action, in order to carry
the burden of the campaign.
The GEC is building support for "targeted" action, where
branches can deliver effective short-term strikes, especially, for
example, where staff shortages are at their worst or where overtime is
Reps are confident another two-day strike for March can be delivered
if no settlement is reached. Bizarrely, the unrepresentative small left
groups who spend most of their efforts denigrating the GEC and National
Executive Committee, rather than attacking management, are calling for a
de-escalation, claiming two days is too much for members.
Effective campaign work is building pressure on management and must
be increased. The excellent demonstration at DWP's recruitment
"Jobs Fairs" in Scotland sharply exposed what services could
be lost if management plough on regardless with their cuts.
PCS pressure has secured talks with management. Unless there are
concessions that go some way to relieving the pressures on members,
further action will be necessary.
PCS is fully committed to a negotiated settlement, but not at any
price. If these talks fail the GEC will call a further two-day strike
The DWP GEC wants a halt to the cuts while a proper review process is
put in place to identify and resolve operational and staffing problems,
a no compulsory redundancy agreement, a proper and credible staffing
scheme, additional staffing to be deployed on the basis of operational
need and a stop to the many attacks on terms and conditions,
particularly around managing attendance.
The vast bulk of reps and members have real confidence in the campaigning, socialist leadership at Group and national level in PCS - management know this too, their wise move would be to settle now.
Supporting the ban on overtime
FOR THE last three Saturdays, pickets have been outside Department
for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices in Leicester in support of the
overtime ban called by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).
Tony Church, Secretary, PCS DWP Leicestershire General branch,
The vast majority of union members, having supported the two-day
strike in January, are backing the union with the ban. There are,
however, a minority who seem to be putting a little extra cash now
before the threat of a further 15,000 job losses to add to the 15,000
already made by New Labour.
This minority fails to realise that by working overtime we take the
pressure off the employer and help them shed jobs. The two PCS branches
in Leicester intend to continue the discussion with members about why
the overtime ban is crucial to the campaign, even if we have to get up
early at the weekend to have that debate through pickets!
Already our picket lines appear to be bringing success. After
initially offering overtime to benefit processing staff at both the
Leicester Pensions Centre and the Jobcentre Plus Benefit Delivery
Centre, management have decided that it isn't worth it. They have to put
up with our presence outside the buildings and hardly anyone has taken
up their offer. In short their overtime plans have been a total waste of
We now have to convince the few frontline staff in Jobcentre Plus
conducting interviews on Saturday, to stand in solidarity with their
benefit-processing comrades and PCS in refusing to help the government
out of the crisis they have caused in our service by their unjustified
cuts in staffing.
So I suppose it might be a few more early Saturday mornings for me and other PCS comrades, but it will be well worth it when we win the campaign to protect jobs and services and give Blair and Brown a bloody nose into the bargain.
Vote 'yes' for a strike to defend pensions
A STRIKE ballot has now started of 1.5 million workers across Britain
who are members of the local government pensions scheme (LGPS).
Jean Thorpe, chair, Nottingham City UNISON, UNISON national
executive, personal capacity
The dispute centres on proposals to scrap the "85-year
rule" which allows members of the pension scheme to retire at 60 on
a full pension, if their age and length of service adds up to 85. 90% of
men and 65% of women currently in the scheme would be eligible to retire
under this rule.
The plans to abolish the rule and therefore raise the minimum
retirement age for most to 65, has enraged local government workers and
other members in the scheme, who are scattered across the public sector
in areas such as fire control rooms, police and the probation service.
The real facts about the local government pension scheme have been
buried under a mountain of vile propaganda and lies in some of the
Unlike MPs, local government workers do not retire on gilt-edged
pensions and many will face poverty in retirement.
73% of elderly pension fund members are women and nearly 60% will
work part time. The average pension for a woman in the scheme is £31 a
week and 75% of all LGPS pensions are under £96 a week. Scheme members
pay 6% of their earnings for this.
The leadership of UNISON, TGWU, GMB and other trade unions continue
to defend their financial support for New Labour, saying they get to
influence New Labour policies.
It is ironic that unions like PCS, NUT and FBU, who do not donate to
New Labour, have successfully fought off attacks on their pension
This was achieved by the threat of united strike action across the
public sector, exposing the myth that donating money to New Labour can
win concessions for trade unionists.
- Trade unionists involved in this dispute should be doing all they can
to maximise turnout for a 'yes' vote in this ballot, which ends on 10
March. And to pressurise the TUC to name the day for the national
pensions demonstration, to unite workers in the public and private
sectors who face attacks on their pensions.
Vote 'yes' for strike action.
Unite the battles to defend pensions - for the TUC to call a national pensions demonstration.
Government make concessions
THE RECALL Fire Brigades Union (FBU) conference in Southport on 16
February discussed a proposed deal on their pensions dispute on offer
from the government.
The proposals marked a further retreat by the government on its plans
to increase the pension age from 50 to 55 for existing scheme members,
although the package on offer had some detrimental proposals for
existing members and a proposed new scheme for new entrants.
The scheme for new entrants would see the normal pension age increase
to 60 and a lower contribution rate of 8.5%, as opposed to the 11%
currently paid by firefighters.
Other concessions from the government included the right of retained
firefighters to be included in the pension scheme and to retain their
current injury pension provisions.
And, the government's offer also proposed a two-tier ill-health
pension provision - a significant issue for firefighters, given the high
rate of accident and injury on the job.
The conference agreed to carry out a consultation of all its members
and branches and committees which would report back to another recall
FBU national conference sometime in the middle of March.
Although the consultation process will discuss whether or not strike
action is necessary to achieve any "remaining objectives", at
this stage the union is not starting a ballot for strike action as it
had originally intended.
Whilst there were concerns raised about the rights of future scheme
entrants and the two-tier ill-health provision arrangements, the mood of
the conference was that this was probably the best deal that could be
achieved by negotiation at this stage and that they would have to come
back to fight another day on the issue of new entrants.
The union had received legal advice from John Hendy QC that argued
that if the union had balloted for strike action just on changes to new
entrants, rather than on changes affecting both existing members and new
entrants, then that ballot would be likely to be successfully challenged
by the employers.
Emergency resolutions from London and West Midlands which argued that
"conference does not accept that the negotiations thus far have
achieved the basis of a settlement... and... instructs the Executive
Council to conduct a ballot immediately of all FBU members with the
intent to take discontinuous strike action", were withdrawn.
An amendment from the Northern Ireland FBU argued that the deal was
the best that could be "achieved by negotiation" rather than
"with or without strike action" as the EC's original emergency
resolution said. And it added that the final decision on accepting or
rejecting the offer should be taken by another recall conference rather
than the NEC.
This resolution, moved by Tony Maguire, a member of the Socialist
Party in Northern Ireland, was eventually the only counter-proposal to
the EC's resolution. It was passed instead of the EC emergency
It looks likely that the offer will be accepted by FBU members who
will see that the government has retreated once again, faced with the
threat of strike action.
However, there is a realisation that issues still remain to be
decided on new entrants and ill health, which may require industrial
action at some stage.
Local government unions are now the only section of public-sector
workers that have not seen a retreat from the government on the issue of
increasing the retirement age.
It looks likely that these unions, which are currently balloting for
action, will take strike action on 4 April.
Unions that are not affiliated to the Labour Party are the ones that
have forced concessions from the government. Affiliated unions, like
UNISON led by Dave Prentis, have claimed that their affiliation to
Labour would allow them 'influence' in winning a similar deal to 'ring
fence' the conditions of existing members.