TUC blog: Pensions

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 09/14/2005 - 14:03

Wednesday morning, and it's time to debate pensions. First off ... let's think ... a pensioner fighting against poverty? A rank-and-file union rep building a strong campaign in their workplace? A socialist with a good, thought-out plan for decent pensions for all? The General Secretary of one of the unions taking up this fight?

Er, no. Adair Turner, chair of the government's Pension Commission and former big cheese at the CBI. I can not confirm rumours that the National Union of Turkeys have invited Bernard Matthews to address their annual Congress.

The catchphrase of the morning was "demographic challenge" - in other words, we are all living too long. Adair say that means that to maintain state pensions, one of three things must happen:

  • means testing
  • raising the retirement age
  • raising taxes or National Insurance contributions.
    Well, the first two are out of the question, and the third might be a good idea if he meant taxing the rich. But he doesn't.

    No-one has any other good ideas, he said, and proceeded to dismiss out of hand the TUC's good idea - compulsory employer contributions. Apparently, this would not work because the employers would make their contributions "at the expense of cash wages".

    Alternatively, of course, employers could be made to make their contributions at the expense of profits rather than wages. But Adair Turner, senior representative of bosses, is not going to recommend that, is he? And even if, by some miracle, he did, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are not going to accept it.

    Our guest speaker ended by stating that would not give away his commissions recommendations, but he gave away quite enough for us to be confident that it would be no good for working people or pensioners.

    One delegate asked: why not stop companies and the rich avoiding tax and make them pay for pensions? Another asked how he could justify MPs awarding themselves comfortable pensions whilst telling everyone else to settle for less. He diplomatically replied that these things were beyond his remit.

    Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, called for the restoration of the link between state pensions and average earnings, and bemoaned the fact that two thirds of final-salary schemes are now closed to new entrants. He felt that the debate "put the spotlight on employers' retreat from the pensions responsibilities" and condemned "Britain's top bosses [who] have been happy to tighten everyone's belt but their own.

    He added that "the TUC says no to higher state pensions age and work-til-you-drop policies".

    It was downhill from there, though, as he fawned on Adair Turner and Alan Johnson, welcoming and priasing the two men who are leading the charge to attack our pensions! I don't think Barber could have been more supine if he had tried.

    Moving on to the resolutions, it was the chance for the leaders of the big public sector unions to make their declarations of war. UNISON, NASUWT and the T&G (though, unless I missed something, not PCS) all said that if they have to strike again, then they will. This got a lot of support from delegates, and activists should continually remind them of these words and hold them to their promise.

    Speaker after speaker from union after union deplored the attacks on pensions. As Tony Woodley said, "I don't need lectures from Adair Turner or any Labour MP about how we can't afford decent pensions when they have looked after themselves to well. It's one law for the rich, another for the poor.

    But some seemed to have a bizarre faith that "Alan" (Johnson, the government minister responsible) was genuinely listening to them. They complained that the negotiations they 'won' by calling of strikes earlier this year were turning into a farce - as if we could not have predicted that at the time.

    The two composite motions on pensions were passed unanimously (yeah, really).

    Alan Johnson waffle waffle shared values blah blah demographic challenge waffle waffle partnership blah blah. He thought it a wise idea to eat a little humble pie, so admitted that "Our original approach was wrong" - the government shojuld have negotiated with trade unions, and now they are doing. In other words, he confessed that it would have been more diplomatic to have a chinwag with union leaders before stuffing over the workers.
    We can go forward now, said Alan, and "If we face the facts together, I am confident that our negotiations will succeed." The problem is what he means by "the facts" ie. that workers must be punished for living longer and must pay the price.

    The he started repeating Gordon Brown's speech about the Indian and Chinese economies and I felt a sudden urge to use the toilet.