Solidarity 069 Pensions Fight Supplement, 17 March 2005

Tax the rich to pay for pensions!

By Martin Thomas

On 23 March, and maybe on 26 April, public sector workers will be striking against the New Labour government’s move to “level down” their pensions nearer to the misery already enforced in the private sector. The civil servants’ union PCS and local government members of the public service union Unison and other unions have all returned ballot majorities for a strike on 23 March. The teachers’ union NUT is balloting for a strike on 26 April, and has approached other education unions to join it on that day.

A fight that must challenge capital


Robin Blackburn

Robin Blackburn, author of Banking on Death, or, Investing in Life: The history and future of pensions, spoke at the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty London forum on 17 February 2005.

The pension issue is the one which has proved time and again that it can get really large numbers of working people fighting for their rights and for a better world.

What is at stake, sector by sector

By kate Ahrens

In local government, Unison, TGWU, Amicus and UCATT are taking action on 23 March following votes for strike ranging from 70% to 83%. Alongside them will be the civil service union PCS, and even the small senior civil service union FDA, who had not had a strike ballot in 20 years but have voted to take action now. NIPSA, the Northern Ireland public services union, is also taking action.

Education unions are now balloting and NATFHE and NUT are discussing an “education” day of strike action in late April, with NUT proposing 26 April.

The history of old age pensions

Old age pensions have been won by labour-movement campaigning, or granted by conservative politicians trying to pre-empt rising labour movements.

The idea of a universal old-age pension, payable to all elderly people as of right, was first raised in the French Revolution of 1789–99, although the policy was never carried through.

The first comprehensive old-age pension was legislated in Germany, in 1889, by a conservative leader, Otto von Bismarck, who wanted to stall the rise of the then-illegal German socialist movement.

A struggle across Europe

Big union mobilisations stalled attempts by European governments in the 1990s to cut public pensions.

There was a mass strike wave in France in 1995 [see below]. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s first government, in 1994–5, fell after its attempts to cut pensions brought strikes and street demonstrations.

Pension facts

  • Public pensions in Britain take only 4.5% of national income, much less than most countries in Europe. In Germany the figure is 11.5%, in Italy, 12.6% (as of 2000).

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