Pensions: end the waiting game!

Submitted by Matthew on 1 February, 2012 - 10:11

Ealing and Kirklees are among the latest local government branches of the public services union Unison to demand a special local government conference of the union on pensions, and Oxfordshire Health branch is pushing for a special health conference.

In local government, Unison and GMB have signed joint “principles” with the employers to implement the Government’s plans for worse public sector pensions. Unite is dissenting only passively. “Final proposals” on “initial design” of the new (worse) pension scheme are due by 8 February. “Final proposals” for “future scheme management” are due by 7 March. 12 March to 20 April is the timeslot allocated for “union consultation”, before it all goes to the Government for legal drafting, on 23 April.

Talks are also proceeding in the Health Service, where Unison, the biggest union, has also agreed a (bad) framework, but no document which could be signed yet exists.

Activists in Unison will be much helped by a move for action from the unions which have rejected the Government’s terms. But the first “rejectionist” union summit, on 25 January, had adverse consequences. By refusing to come in on the plans by the lecturers’ union UCU for a strike on 1 March, it gave leverage to UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, who opposes UCU’s strike decision, to try to reverse it. UCU Exec meets again on 10 February. Meanwhile, balloting in its general secretary election opens on 6 February.

And the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Executive the next day, 26 January, decided to wait on the next “rejectionist” summit, and the thin hope that waiting could bring the second-biggest teachers’ union, NASUWT, in on further action.

Every further delay makes it more difficult to organise a continuing campaign with a good chance of extracting real concessions from the Government.

The civil service union PCS gained credit by being the only union (apart from NIPSA) to reject the Government terms immediately and unequivocally on 19/20 December. PCS leaders have said repeatedly that they believe unions should strike again for pensions.

Understandably, other unions are inclined to look to PCS for a lead. But waiting for PCS can be a snare.

The PCS leadership is dominated by a would-be Marxist group, the Socialist Party, which since 19 December has been demanding, on the streets and in meetings, that unions “name the date” for further action on pensions.

The SPers in the PCS leadership, however — the SPers who could actually “name the date” — have not responded to the SP’s public demand!

The January/ February issue of the PCS union magazine, View, does not even hint at further industrial action for pensions. The most militant thing it says is: “unions now have to make a decision of enormous significance — accept the government’s proposals on pension age, contributions and the value of pensions or demand real negotiations on the real issues”.

Real joint action will be best achieved by unions moving quickly, taking the initiative, naming definite days, making definite proposals — and responding to proposals from others with support, not quibbling and delay.

Even an 11th-hour token protest just before the Government’s contributions increases come in, even one called by only a few unions, or only one union, would be better than nothing.

But the unions can and should go for much more: a strike in good time, followed by a rapid campaign of rolling and selective action, organised with rank-and-file control, assisted by strike levies, and with activity every week.

• What workers will have deducted from their wages, as increased pension contributions, from April:

NHS

Teachers

Civil service

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