Monday, November 29, 2010

Pensions - time for leadership

Dave Prentis makes some sound and important points on the front page of the UNISON website (http://www.unison.org.uk/) just now.

I'll quote him verbatim;

" This week, news emerged that the value of public sector workers' pensions has dropped by up to 25%. This is due in part to the government's decision to use the CPI rather than the RPI to calculate pension increases.
This means the cost of providing public sector pensions has already fallen and workers are losing out when they retire. Further attempts to cut pensions for social workers, teaching assistants and nurses would be unjustified.
It's time the government turned its attention instead to the private sector, where two thirds of companies do not pay a penny towards their workers' pensions – leaving taxpayers with a multibillion pound means-tested benefits bill."

I agree completely that further attacks on public service pensions would be unjustified. However - following the Comprehensive Spending Review - we know at least one attack (a three per cent increase in contributions) is already on the way. We can also reasonably anticipate further attacks from the final Hutton report (which Dave doubtless hopes to influence with his reasoned and well founded observations - and to which UNISON is making submissions).

Also however, as unjustified as further attacks on our pensions will be, the attack made in June by changing the basis of uprating from RPI to CPI is and remains a disgrace.

In July when the TUC began to spell out the scale of this theft from our pensions I observed that "We may not be ready for a national strike ballot next week or next month, but we need to be declaring disputes, making preparations and mobilising members." (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/07/osborne-has-cut-our-pensions-shall-we.html).

I went on (and on and on as I do);
"We shouldn't swallow this first Coalition attack upon our pensions just so we can use its effects to show that our pensions, having become less generous, are more "affordable." What is "affordable" is always a political and never an economic choice.
The alternative approach is that set out by Dave Prentis in his speech as General Secretary to UNISON National Delegate Conference - national strike action to defend public service pensions.
We have a lot of work to do to persuade and mobilise our members.
Will we get on with it?"

I regret that the emerging response to the proposals from the National Union of Teachers (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/11/teaching-us-how-to-protect-our-pensions.html) for a strike ballot for action over pensions in the Spring Term (reflected in comments on an earlier post - http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/11/follow-leaders.html) suggest that the answer to the question I posed on 8 July is "not yet" or at least "not yet sufficiently".

Without the unifying framework of national action we are destined to months and years of guerilla action against particular the cuts.

We will win some battles at a local level. Some jobs and some services will be rescued in the future as they have been in the past.

However, we cannot defeat a national Government with purely local campaigns. The attack on pensions provides an opportunity for us to mobilise nationally.

This is an opportunity that must be seized by our national officers. At a local level our activists are inevitably prioritising local campaigns.

The impact of those local campaigns can be magnified by a national intervention which goes beyond exhorting the Government to be reasonable and starts exhorting our members to be militant.

If our members are not yet motivated to fight on pensions this is at least in part because we have been too slow to promote this issue over the past five months.

It is not too late to put this right. The NUT are showing the way.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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