Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Attacking the public sector - or the working class?

Today attacks are being made which appear to be attacks upon public service workers, their pensions and trade unions, but which are in fact shots fired in a class war.

I am indebted to the comrade who forwarded me the link to the views of the Financial Times that "Britain's public sector is inefficient and needs a dose of market discipline," and that "British employment law is now well-tested and fair." (http://m.ft.com/cms/s/0/64838478-40d6-11df-94c2-00144feabdc0.html?catid=86&SID=ece14050796a2b6446e7c06ec9358f21).

The FT is positively gleeful at the thought a future Government will have to take on the trade unions in order to impose spending cuts, and can rely not only upon the anti-union laws (untouched by New Labour) but also upon privatisation to weaken our unions. We are warned that we cannot expect sympathy from a "de-unionised" public.

The Morning Star also deserves credit for highlighting the dangerous plans from the Confederation of British Industry to undermine public service pension provision (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/88806). Someone called John Cridland who is in charge of this self-interested club of employers says that final-salary pension schemes are "history" and cannot be afforded.

Leaving aside the observation that most public service workers (who actually do something useful with our working lives rather than act as a mouthpiece for wealth and privilege) would happily swap our salary and pension with Mr Cridland, what is ominous is that the CBI are coming out with plans detailing exactly how to undermine and water down public service pensions(http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/06/cbi-public-sector-pensions-reform).

Critically, the CBI want the public sector to follow the private sector down the road from "defined benefit" pensions (where you know what you'll be getting) to "defined contribution" pensions (where you don't)(http://www.cbi.org.uk/ndbs/press.nsf/0363c1f07c6ca12a8025671c00381cc7/d1c3c285facecb5a802576f6002fd3c8?OpenDocument).

Since I want a pension for security in old age I will fight to hold on to the principle and practice of defined benefits.

If we want to stand a chance we need not only to respond vigorously to the lies of those attacking our (far from) "gold-plated" public sector pensions. We need not only to prepare for unity amongst public service unions to defend these pensions.

We need also to see that this is not about public sector -v- private sector. This is about working class -v- ruling class (or, to put it in more everyday language perhaps, people -v- profit).

The CBI want to level down public sector pensions not just to limit future tax liabilities but to shut off any debate about better pension provision in the private sector.

The FT celebrate the weakness even of the public sector unions not just because they want to see spending cuts, but because they never want to see private sector trade unionism restored to strength.

Private sector workers depend upon the "social wage" of public service provision and stand to gain nothing from attacks on the pay or pensions of those who provide such services.

It is in the interests of the working class not just that these attacks upon public services and public service workers should be resisted - but also that we should campaign, as trade unionists, to promote the interests of private sector workers - for example by extending access to viable defined benefit pension schemes such as the (funded) Local Government Pension schemes.

Unison members can do a little bit by prioritising for debate at our Conference Motion 23 on precisely this topic. We need to give much more thought though about how to build unity between public and private sector workers.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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