Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Decision day on pensions

With an increasing number of trade unions distancing themselves, in one way or another, from what appeared before Xmas to be the emerging settlement of the public sector pensions dispute (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16472469), UNISON's Service Group Executive (SGE) meetings today assume ever greater importance.

Will UNISON deliver the result that Maude and Alexander hope for?

Robert Griffiths, writing in today's Morning Star (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/113958), puts a key part of the case against coherently and in a measured way, when considering, quite correctly, the deliberate political nature of the attack upon our pensions;

"Only working-class unity, backed by a broad section of public opinion, bears the potential to turn back this massive ruling class offensive.

Of course nobody should be so naive as to believe that every public-sector worker - let alone those in the private sector - is prepared to strike unselfishly, for the collective good rather than to defend their own pension terms.

But it is also true that the huge demonstrations and strikes of March 26, June 30 and November 30 have built confidence, solidarity and militancy.

To break that developing unity now would be calamitous, not only for pensions and public services. It would divide and demoralise many workers and the labour movement as a whole.

It is sheer delusion to imagine that one or two major pension schemes can be removed from the fight and escorted to safety.

Splitting the united front will worsen the prospects for defending the other schemes - and guarantee that any temporarily "exempted" ones will be even more savagely attacked further down the line.

"First they came for the Civil Service scheme, but I was not a civil servant so I did nothing. Then they came for the teachers' scheme, but I was not a teacher... etc."

Finally, the government will come for the health or local government scheme, and there will be nobody left to act in solidarity."

The extent of the "delusion" criticised by Griffiths is made clear by the fact that, whilst UNITE were deciding their position democratically, negotiators for UNISON and GMB were in talks about the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) (http://m.lgcplus.com/5039996.article). This before any of UNISON's SGEs had expressed a view!

I fear that our LGPS negotiators are so dazzled by their achievement in putting off contribution increases until 2014 (the credit for which they share with the employers' side negotiators) that they now want to press ahead, trusting to their undoubted skill and understanding of the detail, but ignoring the wider context in which a local government workforce, isolated from the rest of the movement, could be picked off at their leisure by the Government.

For local government workers it's as if, having confronted a burglar about to steal our possessions, we have come to an agreement with him that, if he leaves us most of our stuff now, we'll go out and leave the front door unlocked in 2014, and will spend the coming months helping him prepare an inventory. (And, since we are conceding to the Government on the pension age, and abandoning indexation as a bargaining objective, it's also as if we've given the burglar some valuables "on account" as a token of good faith!)

Of course, for health workers, the burglar's visit is delayed only by one year - and then only for half the workforce.

Today we'll find out if the elected lay representatives of UNISON members are prepared to endorse the approach which the Government are hoping for.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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