What the unions should fight for

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.


Control of Our Money Should Not Be Confrontational

I agree with the above, but workers having control over the money they have paid into their pension schemes should not be a cause for confrontation with capital, it should be something accepted by any fair minded person. Why on earth should workers not have control over their money. It should not be up to workers to have to justify why they should control their pension schemes, but up to those that oppose this to justify why they oppose it.

To the extent that capital does oppose workers controlling their own money the more clearly the nature of capital is exposed. There is no need to demand the nationalisation of pension funds to raise that demand (and to be honest I would not really be happy with handing them over to the capitalist state to run rather than capitalist financiers).

I think there may also be problems with the Swedish scheme of capital levies through issuing new shares. Firstly, this relies on the capitalists state to introduce such a scheme, and to keep it in place (the problem in Sweden was a change of government brought the end of the scheme). It would be far better for workers (preferably at a national level but if not at an industry level) to use their own strength to force employers to contribute at a far higher level into the pension fund to be controlled by the workers. It would then be more clearly seen as part of the wage. Additionally, issuing more shares dilutes the companies equity, and reduces the value of the shares. The more shares that are issued the more the value of the shares already accumulated in the fund would fall, it is a recipe for workers reducing the value of their own pension funds. Better that the bosses have to hand over money to workers who can then purchase existing shares, thereby increasing the value of existing shares raising the value of their funds, and making the purchase of shares more expensive for capitalists.

Arthur Bough

So-called demographic timebomb

The goverment keeps telling us about this so-called demographic timebomb of an increasingly old age pensioner population. Everyone seems to just accept this as fact but the oap population has risen steadily for 100 years with the largest increase in the seventies. Furthermore, just as the population grows the economy grows. Why can't our unions speak out against the lies being spread by the government? Why can't we have a citizens pension, available to everyone regardless of N.I. contributions? It could be paid for from the 8 billion yearly unclaimed benefits.