Thursday, March 08, 2012

Health workers defend the NHS as their pensions are smashed

Whilst in local government we wait (and wait) for the Government to give our negotiators the nod so that we can be told what agreement has been arrived at for members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) ahead of a ballot, our members in the health service are already being notified of next month's increase in pension contributions, against which we all took strike action on 30 November.

The GMB have made a point of expressing outrage that the Government have imposed the contribution increase whilst negotiations continue (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5i-Sk4HW-A_VXgtG4snzz1GdSlm6A?docId=N0961591331124109201A)

In UNISON our Health Service Group Executive (SGE) will have to determine it's recommendation to our members in a forthcoming ballot. UNITE's equivalent lay leadership body (the National Industrial Sector Committee - NISC) is recommending rejection.

UNITE's consultative ballot of their health service members, which opened a week ago and closes on 19 March, is accompanied by a clear and persuasive recommendation to reject the current proposals (http://www.unitetheunion.org/resources/pensions/protecting_pensions_for_our_pu/health_sector_consultative_bal.aspx).

Our website, on the other hand, still hosts the commentary on the Heads of Agreement (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/B5774.pdf) about which I have blogged criticism before (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/12/nhs-pensions-comments-on-commentary.html?m=0).

This document certainly compares unfavourably with the clarity of UNITE's communication to their members - and I hope that plans are in hand for a much more straightforward communication to our members of whatever recommendation our Health SGE decides to make.

Ultimately though, unless the outrage of the GMB or the rejection from UNITE is accompanied by an attempt to persuade members to take further strike action it will end up no different from the deplorable comment reportedly made by a UNISON official that "this was always about damage limitation".

I spent this evening at a very positive rally of (predominantly) health workers committed to defending our NHS (http://www.tuc.org.uk/industrial/index.cfm?mins=395&minors=371&majorsubjectID=8).

The tools which those health workers have to defend the NHS are, first and foremost, their trade unions. If our trade unions cannot improve upon a pensions offer that health workers should work longer and pay more to get less then we shall struggle to inspire confidence in health service (and other) members to use their trade unions to fight to defend our health service.

The speaker who told this evening's rally that we weren't there about pay or pensions but to defend the NHS was much more wrong than right. David Cameron, George Osborne and Andrew Lansley (with their willing stooges Clegg and Cable) are not pursuing a series of discrete attacks upon the NHS, claimants, the pay and pensions of public sector workers and jobs and services.

The Government plainly have an overarching plan to attack the working class, the Welfare State, claimants and trade union rights. They can see a big picture which our trade union leaders must face up to.

If the utmost priority is the unity of the "Big Three" then - unless that unity is used to wage war back against a Government which has declared war on us - we might as well call it "The Triple Alliance" (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_(1921)) - though on this occasion we would not see two unions letting down a third but all three letting down their members.

The Government have declared war on our movement and our class. If we are to honour the memory of the generation who, having defeated fascism, gave their lives to build the Welfare State in general and the National Health Service in particular, then we must be as determined in our opposition to them as they are in their attacks upon us.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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