The unions should fight for an alternative of democratic social provision.
They should fight for a workers’ government — a government based on and accountable to the labour movement. A workers’ government should take all the pension funds into public ownership — without compensation to the financiers — and put them under the democratic control of the workers who pay into them and the pensioners who depend on them. It should tax the rich and big business as much as is necessary to level up pension provision with a proper guaranteed minimum.
Strategically, the best way to do that would be through a levy on profits which obliges companies to issue new shares each year and put them into socially-controlled pension funds. That way is more secure than payroll taxes; avoids giving employers a direct incentive to cut jobs; and gives the socially-controlled funds leverage over capital.
That requires political action, on a much bolder scale than the tentative new gestures from some union leaders recently.
In summer 2004 the “big four” unions adopted proposals for what they wanted to see in Labour’s next manifesto. The proposals including “a new compulsory pension scheme for all — with employer contributions of at least ten per cent”, and restoration of the earnings link for the state pension.
Those demands would be progress, even though they evaded any direct confrontation with high finance. However, they were… “private and confidential”! They were the union leaders’ agenda for haggling with the top Labour leadership, not a manifesto for mobilising the union ranks.
TUC leader Brendan Barber generally welcomed the Turner report, though he expressed worry about raising the basic state pension age to 69.
AWL is working within the trade unions and in electoral politics to establish a clear socialist alternative, and to rally the unions for a battle within the Labour structures to break them from Blair-Brownism; to fight for policies like repeal of the anti-union laws, taxing the rich, and decent pensions for all; and to mobilise the forces which can create a workers’ government.