WDIE Masthead

Year 2005 No. 26, February 18, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

"Protecting Public Service Pensions" Campaign Day

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

"Protecting Public Service Pensions" Campaign Day

The Need to Oppose the Denial of Society's Role in Guaranteeing the Well-Being of Its Members

Daily On Line Newspaper of the
Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

170, Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LA.
Phone: (Local Rate from outside London 0845 644 1979) 020 7627 0599
Web Site: http://www.rcpbml.org.uk
e-mail: office@rcpbml.org.uk
Subscription Rates (Cheques made payable to RCPB(ML)):
Workers' Weekly Printed Edition:
4 issues - £2.95, 6 months - £18.95 for 26 issues, Yearly - £33.95 (including postage)

Workers' Daily Internet Edition sent by e-mail daily (Text e-mail):
1 issue free, 6 months £5, Yearly £10


"Protecting Public Service Pensions" Campaign Day

Public Sector Pensions Campaign Day - 18 February – from the TUC Campaign Day website

On Friday 18 February, the TUC Pensions Day of Action, there will be widespread rallies across the whole of the country to show support for the workers in public services who are facing an imminent pensions crisis if new government plans are implemented.

Public servants heal the sick, teach our children, keep our communities safe, clean and secure and perform every other vital public service. So why are they facing changes and cuts to their pension?

The TUC’s Public Service Liaison Group has chosen Friday 18 February as a nationwide day of local and regional campaigning for union members to voice their concerns at the detrimental changes the Government is planning to make to the pensions of all public sector workers.

Although the changes to the various pensions schemes vary from sector to sector, the unions are united in their desire to preserve decent pensions for workers across the public services. Of particular concern is the Government’s determination to increase the retirement age for all public sector workers.

Unions are seeking an urgent meeting to take place with senior Government ministers. The TUC is to keep up the pressure on ministers for this high level meeting to occur as soon as possible. Unions are urging their members to lobby MPs in their constituencies on 18 February. Lobby packs are available from the TUC website.

SERTUC Regional Secretary Mick Connolly has said: 'This issue is not going to go away. Unions and their members are very angry at the changes the Government is proposing. There is enormous concern at the impact these proposals will have upon the lives of millions of public sector workers. We are determined to keep up the pressure on the Government.'

SERTUC is publicising and co-ordinating a campaigning day of activities so that unions can argue the case to protect public sector pensions in their local and regional media, organise local rallies and other campaign events, and put pressure on local constituency MPs.

SERTUC - Protect Public Service Pensions Campaign Rally

12 - 2pm, 18 February

NATFHE Conference Hall, 27 Britannia Street, London WC1

Speakers include

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary

Chris Keates, General Secretary, NASUWT

Paul Mackney, General Secretary, NATFHE

Hugh Lanning, Deputy General Secretary, PCS

Jean Geldhart, Chair National Services Group, UNISON

Martin Gould, SERTUC President, AMICUS, will chair the meeting

speakers from other public sector unions and MPs have also been invited to speak

On 18 February teachers, nurses, hospital porters, fire-fighters, local government workers and civil servants will be lobbying their local MP and joining events across London, including rallies in Ealing, Camden, Waltham Forest, Newham, Tooting, Croydon, Wandsworth, Euston, Islington, Greenwich, Hackney and Haringey .

Newcastle City centre rally over public services pensions crisis

At 12noon on Friday 18th,, at an hour long rally at Newcastle’s Grey’s Monument, that representatives from public services unions across the board will be speaking out against the proposed government cuts. Local Government workers, teachers, nurses, firefighters, prison officers and civil servants will rally against the pensions attacks.

Speakers will include Unison Regional Secretary and Northern TUC Chair, Gill Hale, GMB Regional Organiser, Chris Jukes, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Colin Moses, as well as Further Education Union, NATFHE, Alan McLean from the Fire Brigades Union (Executive Council member for the North East Region), teachers union NASUWT, and civil service workers union, PCS.

In addition, there will be the added spectacle of Prudence the Pensions pig - the TUC’s giant (12x12x12ft) inflatable piggybank mascot floating several feet above the ground, as well as smaller piggybank balloons and information leaflets being handed out to passersby on the busy thoroughfare to raise awareness of the looming pensions crisis.

Kevin Rowan, Northern TUC Regional Secretary said, 'The issue of pension reform in the public sector has ignited an anger among working people unlike any other in recent history. The changes proposed will act disproportionately on the poorest workers in the public sector. These are the same workers who are least likely to live long beyond the existing normal retirement age. The reality of these changes means that more people will die before reaching retirement age, many more people will die very shortly after retirement age. Rather than moving toward a life of dignity and respect for retired workers we are moving to a work ‘til you drop society’."'

Scotland

Edinburgh

Date : Friday 18 February,

8.45 am STUC ad trailer sponsored by affiliates will be at the Scottish Executive, St Andrews House, Edinburgh

10.00 am The STUC will deliver a letter to the Secretary of State for Scotland calling for the Government to rethink the proposals.

Please contact the Scottish TUC for any further information 0141 337 8100

Glasgow

Location:

Moir Hall,

Glasgow Date & Time :

Friday 18 February,

12:00pm

Rally at the Moir Hall, Glasgow with speakers invited from Unison, PCS and the STUC.

The ad trailer will tour Government and Local Government workplaces in the afternoon.

Public Sector workers to protest across Wales on February 18th over pension cuts

CARDIFF

Lower Hall at Cardiff City Hall from 12 noon to 2pm on Friday 18th February. Speakers will include:

· Julie Morgan MP

· Huw Edwards MP

· Felicity Williams, General Secretary, Wales TUC

· Paul O'Shea, Regional Secretary, Unison

· Jeff Evans, Regional Secretary, PCS

· Cath Speight, Regional Secretary, Amicus

· Jim Hancock, Regional Secretary, T&GWU

· Allan Garley, Regional Secretary, GMB

· Liz Jenkins, Regional Secretary, Prospect

SWANSEA

A cross union rally will take place at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea. It will start at 12.30pm. Speakers include

· Martin Caton MP

· Alan Williams MP

· Donald Anderson MP

· Paul Elliott, Head of Local Government, UNISON

Article Index



The Need to Oppose the Denial of Society's Role in Guaranteeing the Well-Being of Its Members

- Workers' Centre of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) -
From TML Daily, Online newspaper of CPC(ML), February 16, 2005

The following discussion is prompted by the proposals contained in the Ontario NDP Caucus Discussion Paper entitled "What's waiting for you when you finish work?" presented by NDP Pensions Critic Andrea Horwath. All quotes in italics are from the Discussion Paper, followed by Workers' Centre comments.

* * *

...'Will my pension be there for me at the end of the day?'

The Ontario New Democratic Party believes that everyone deserves the right to a secure pension.

The concept of "my pension" blocks dealing with the problem of providing a Canadian standard livelihood for all Canadians during retirement. "My pension" signifies a relationship between an employee and an employer that results in an uncertain obligation to provide a pension during retirement. According to the "my pension" concept the government intervenes if some problem disrupts the terms of that relationship or the obligation is not fulfilled. The intervention results in the obligation only partially fulfilled and the employer or fund either subsidised by government or simply let off the hook. Importantly, most Canadians, which is acknowledged by the Discussion Paper, do not even have a "my pension".

"My pension" can also define a relationship between a collective of employees and their employer. Again, according to this view, the society only intervenes if a problem disrupts the relationship between the individual or collective and the employer. The concept of "my pension" negates the basic relationship during retirement between an individual or collective and the society.

The main problem here comes from the denial of society and its primary role in guaranteeing the well-being of its members. The concept of "my pension" puts the primary role to guarantee the well-being of retirees into the hands of employers for those Canadians with a company pension. For the vast majority of Canadians without a pension plan, retirement is reduced to fending for yourself.

Society is a constant throughout the life of every individual. An employer is a passing phenomenon in the life of an individual. The relationship between an individual and a particular employer is impermanent and subject to unforeseen consequences and disruptions. No relationship as important as the well-being of individuals during retirement should be based on an impermanent relationship. Only the society is in a position to guarantee a livelihood to an individual until death. The NDP proposals around "my pension" are doomed to fail and at best will end up as schemes to pay the rich in one way or another either as totally inadequate rescue packages such as the Ontario Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund or in assisting the pooling of funds that are then made available to monopolies as investments.

With more than 15 years having passed since the last significant reform, a government overhaul of Ontario's outmoded pension system is long overdue....

I am hosting a series of six public hearings to gather comments from citizens about our discussion paper in order to engage them in an effort to finally have Ontario pension laws improved and modernised for the first time since 1987.

1987 is prior to the Ontario NDP government from 1990 to 1995 during which changes were made to the pension regime. Before dealing with improvements and modernisation of pension laws the NDP caucus in the legislature must do a full rendering of accounts for its last term as the provincial government and what it did or did not do with pension law. Public officials are accountable to the people. Those who profess to be members of the NDP and want to be in the government must be accountable for the actions or inaction of their party when it was government. Many believe that the actions and inaction of the NDP 1990-95 government set the stage for the explosion of the anti-social offensive of the following Harris government.

Some of the pension changes initiated by the NDP government of the 1990s are still causing grief to workers today. Underfunding of Stelco's pension fund is partially a result of pension funding holidays at Stelco during a period when it was enjoying high profits, which were made possible by changes to the Ontario Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund by the NDP government. The present NDP legislative caucus cannot escape a full accounting of its party's role as government. The people of the province deserve to know if the NDP has repudiated its earlier views and activities and has now become fully supportive of the need of the people for a guaranteed Canadian standard livelihood until death. Any discussion paper on pensions offered by the Ontario NDP must begin by dealing with its own demons or it will be considered disingenuous, forcing the people to dismiss the views of the NDP caucus as non-serious and a waste of time. The words of a political party must be its deeds.

This document recommends reforms to Ontario's pension system that would better protect people's retirement earnings and enable more widespread participation in pension plans.

Improving and modernising pension plans have nothing to do with "better protecting people's retirement earnings and enabling more widespread participation in pension plans". Pension plans and participation in them are outmoded and based on an enduring relationship between an individual and an employer or a collective and an employer. That is not modernising or improving anything. Ideas have to be explored to find a way for the society to guarantee a continuation of a similar livelihood for a worker who retires or becomes a certain age. That livelihood should be similar to the one enjoyed by the worker during their working life and should at least never fall below a Canadian standard, regardless of the individual's work record. A modern conception of economic phenomena recognises society and social conditions as primary and the individual as secondary in the sense that the conditions of individuals derive from the conditions of the society. Social conditions and the reality of a social economy where the main means of production and distribution are controlled by huge private monopolies determine economic phenomena such as "participation in pension plans" and the size of "retirement earnings". The primary responsibility for participation by individuals in pension plans and social labour, and the size of their "retirement earnings" if any, lies with society and the social conditions not with the individual. A modern enlightened approach to retirement puts society at the centre of reform. Society must meet its obligations to guarantee a Canadian standard livelihood to all until death.

This paper advocates safeguards for pensions, including indexing for inflation protection, vesting from day one, easier portability, broader eligibility and improving the Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund.

...an effort to finally have Ontario pension laws improved and modernised....

These reforms keep pensions in the realm of a relationship between individuals and their employers or at best between a collective and an employer. The reforms as itemised are highly suspect without government funding and bailing out of employers and/or the pension funds. The reforms will inevitably result in the public treasury being used to assist companies that renege on their pension commitments making the proposals various versions of pay the rich schemes.

The reforms, which could be explored in more detail, are only stopgap efforts at avoiding the real issue and postponing the day that society takes up its responsibility to guarantee all Canadians at the very least a Canadian standard livelihood until death. Only the society through its government can guarantee similar livelihoods during retirement that an employee enjoyed during employment, and only the government can guarantee a minimum Canadian standard retirement for all. No amount of "vesting, portability, broader eligibility and improving the Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund" can fully guarantee all Canadians a livelihood until death and that is an important issue.

Also, the question of appropriating the necessary social product to pay for those reforms or guarantees is seldom broached. The issue of finding enough social product even for the proposed reforms of "vesting, easier portability, broader eligibility and improving the Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund" is not explored. Only the government can claim adequate social product to meet the needs of Canadian seniors and it must come directly from the point of production and mainly from the monopolies. It cannot come from any form of taxes other than direct appropriation of a percentage of social product at the point of production, an appropriation that should be supported pro rata by all those companies engaged in the non-productive sectors.

The New Democratic Party believes that any Ontarian who has worked hard all of his or her life should be able to live out the retirement years with dignity and security.

This qualifier of "worked hard all of his or her life" is a big diversion. Where does this leave those who are working hard at parenting or were laid-off for long periods or were injured or physically or mentally ill or in any way otherwise would not have "worked hard all their lives"? This qualifier opens up the discussion on rights and duties toward social labour. The society has a duty to guarantee the right of all Canadians to participate in social labour to the best of their ability. This includes the duty of the society to prepare all youth physically and intellectually to modern standards to participate in social labour. It also means society is duty bound to guarantee that enough social labour is available for all. This relationship also embraces the right and duty of all individuals to participate in social labour to the best of their ability.

The right and duty to participate in social labour is separate from the issue of the right of individuals to a Canadian standard livelihood until death. A modern enlightened country must find ways to encourage and prepare the youth and others to participate in social labour. This effort begins with providing all youth the best possible education, upholding in public life and culture the dignity of labour, social consciousness and social responsibility and providing enough social labour for all.

For New Democrats, the fact that 60 per cent of Ontarians are not covered by a workplace-based pension plan of any kind is simply unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is the fact that 83 per cent of workers in the private sector who do have pensions, have absolutely no inflation protection and will inevitably see their pension benefits seriously eroded over their retirement period.

Description of a social problem is only the first step and often the easiest. Of more importance is pinpointing the origin of the problem, the social force that is blocking the resolution of the problem and the missing human element necessary to overcome the obstruction.

The retirement problem described by the NDP has its origin in the aim given social production by the owners of capital, who control, direct and profit from the economy. The principal owners of capital do not have on their agenda to guarantee a Canadian standard livelihood for all Canadians until they pass away. It contradicts with the aim of their economy. Guaranteeing a Canadian standard livelihood for all until they pass away has nothing in common with their aim of protecting and expanding their capital as much as possible. If crumbs fall off their table and partially fulfil the needs of seniors, then fine, a few workers in certain sectors may receive acceptable defined pensions until the crumbs dry up. When a liquidity crisis descends on a particular monopoly or sector or other better opportunities for capital are found, the defined pensions suddenly become a problem and in conflict with the aim of the economy. The owners of capital begin to scream that they have no alternative to destroying the outstanding pensions or passing them off onto government.

Not many owners of capital have any objection to pensions as a policy objective as long as the aim of their economy to preserve and expand their capital is fulfilled first. In this situation, the decision to guarantee Canadian standard livelihoods for all until passing away or even defending the pensions as they exist, obviously cannot be left to the principal owners of capital or the problem will never be solved. Monopoly right will trump public right. The aim of the economy controlled by the owners of capital will prevail. Only the working class has a deep commitment to guarantee a livelihood to all until passing away, as it is in step with their aspirations for an economy based on the human factor/social consciousness, where the needs of the people and their economy are met before anything else.

Organised workers in the industrial sector have developed a consciousness based on their experience in fighting for their own collective pensions. They are the minority described in the discussion paper as having defined pension plans that are protected against monetary and price inflation. When they unite in defence of their rights, such as the steelworkers at Stelco, they give rise to militant stands expressed by the slogans "Concessions are not solutions!" and "Hands off our pensions!" That is a good starting point to extend the struggle to all Canadians to defend the pensions they have and fight to guarantee a Canadian standard livelihood for all until passing away.

From the consciousness of fighting against concessions and to defend the pensions of the collective, the working class leads the people to give a new aim to the economy in opposition to the aim of the owners of capital. The NDP discussion paper does not mention the current anti-social offensive of the monopolies against existing pensions and unions or the resistance of the workers, in particular the year-long heroic stand of Stelco steelworkers. The discussion paper does not issue a call for all to unite and fight for the rights of all, starting with those who are in action such as the Stelco steelworkers. Such a call would enliven the situation and give the people some prospects for the future. The lack of any connection with the movement renders the discussion paper impotent in everything except describing the pension problem. And that is the paper's fatal flaw. It does not pinpoint the origin of the pension problem for Canadians, does not identify the social force blocking the resolution of the problem and does not recognise the missing human element necessary to overcome the obstruction and lead the people in fighting for their right to a Canadian standard livelihood until passing away.

Over the next three years, Ontarians will be able to judge for themselves which of the three major parties is truly committed to an Ontario where seniors are treated with the respect they deserve. The former Conservative government's attempt to make it easier for companies to dip into pension surpluses suggests the kind of pension policy Ontarians can expect from a future Conservative government. And the Liberal government? Will they be endlessly flip-flopping on pensions as they did on hydro privatisation and deregulation and their pledge not to raise taxes? Or will we get no pension policy from them at all?

This is a line of passivity, of waiting for the political party in power or those in opposition to do something. Such a line leads to disaster. The people cannot wait for some condescending saviour to come to the rescue. The modern working class must rely on its own thinking and efforts in organising and fighting for social progress. It needs support from the middle strata but everything starts from its own efforts and is based on the consciousness it acquires through summing up its own participation in the battle, reflecting on the logic of history and reflecting on its ups and downs and laws of motion.

The discussion paper suggests that the role of the people over the next three years is "to judge for themselves which of the three major parties is truly committed to an Ontario where seniors are treated with the respect they deserve". After the judging is over, the voting begins and the party adjudged to be "truly committed" will be elected the ruling party. This is not working class democracy or discussion. This is democracy of the owners of capital and a disastrous path for the people. After three years, it should be those that have been leading the people in defending their pensions and have the trust of their peers in their skills at organising the movement for a state guarantee for all of a Canadian standard livelihood until passing away, who are honoured as elected representatives of the sovereign people. Working class democracy recognises their leaders for their actual leadership in the movement for the new, for progress and enlightenment, those who are organising and leading in work places, educational institutions and among the youth, and in neighbourhoods and among seniors.

As for discussion, that is another important matter, which demands elaboration. An example of discussions that serve the people was explained in an article January 29, on the occasion of one year of resistance of Stelco steelworkers to the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) bankruptcy protection fraud. In offering her "Congratulations to Stelco Steelworkers and the Fighting Steel Communities!" on behalf of CPC(M-L), the Party's National Leader Sandra L. Smith wrote among other things on the issue of discussion:

"Discussion is held to establish what's what so as to then sort out how one thing relates to another for purposes of drawing warranted conclusions. When discussion takes place with the participation of all those concerned, i.e. who have a stake in the outcome of what is being sorted out, then the discussion itself gives rise to unity and courage as the workers become convinced that the decisions they take are the best under the circumstances. Most significantly, the discussion establishes the process for the creation of public opinion. All those concerned with the outcome of what is being sorted out through their ability to participate in discussing the issue will not only be fully informed of what's what but will be fully cognisant of what is at stake as a result of the different ways in which the what's what can be sorted out. The workers control the process and in the course of the discussion they become convinced that the outcome is what is possible within the circumstances.

"This is how Local 1005 conducts its discussion every Thursday with the participation of no less than a hundred or so workers. This number constitutes a definite representation of active steelworkers from all operations in the plant and of retired steelworkers and their dependents. These workers then replicate the process amongst their fellow workers and retirees. It is a great achievement, which strengthens the workers' conviction in the justice of their cause and puts the leadership and initiative directly in their own hands.

"What Stelco CEO Courtney Pratt and Justice James Farley call discussion, and 'meaningful discussion' at that, is nothing of the sort. It is tantamount to spin and counterspin to disorient the steelworkers, as well as rival gangs of contenders. It is self-serving factional fighting, not the creation of public opinion in a manner which informs the public of what is at stake for the society and its members. As for the disinformation carried by the monopoly-owned media, it is beneath contempt. Far from being an institution of a democratic society to inform the people by going into the essence of things, it disinforms the society by repeating the spin and counter-spin of players with vested interests to make a fast buck at the workers' expense.

"What constitutes discussion and how to conduct a discussion is very important. Unless the conditions are created so that the workers can keep up with the speed of information and participate in the deliberation of the what's what and how to sort it all out in a manner which serves their interests, then all is lost.

"In my opinion, the merit of the Thursday meetings held by Local 1005 is that the workers have fully established where their interests objectively lie. This is based on the recognition that labour is not a cost of production. It produces the wealth upon which the society and all its members depend and labour has a just claim on the wealth it produces. In other words, the workers defend the dignity of labour by clearly demarcating its independent stand. It is labour which has the moral high ground, not the vulture capitalists and all their hangers-on whose aim is to steal more and more of the wealth the workers produce for their personal pleasure...."

Under an NDP plan, all plan members receiving benefits under a defined benefit pension plan in Ontario would receive some inflation protection. 

However, many issues still need to be addressed. For example, one option would be to mandate a relatively low level of inflation protection when there is an unfunded liability (e.g. 25 per cent of CPI) but to mandate a higher level (e.g. 75 per cent of CPI minus one per cent) when plans are fully funded or in surplus. 

Indexing is a very complicated issue and the NDP would consult widely before settling on a final approach.

This proposal is wrong, wrong, wrong! It legitimises a big fraud of the monopolies and the negation of labour rights. The NDP is saying that labour rights are based on the economic health of a particular monopoly, sector or the general economy. Workers' rights cannot be negated because of economic difficulties of the capitalist economy or this or that particular monopoly. This anti-labour nonsense is based on the prejudice and unscientific assertion that the claims of workers are costs of production, injurious to the economy and a major cause of economic difficulties for particular companies. The indexing proposal and prejudice refuse to investigate the real causes of economic difficulties within particular monopolies, commercial sectors and the economy in general. Why are the pension plans unfunded!? Apparently there is no need to investigate, just attack the workers. This stance of the NDP caucus takes a symptom, the unfunded plan, which is a result of a real contradiction, a cause rooted in the economic system, and uses it to perpetuate ignorance and avoid proposing genuine reforms that will change the situation for the better. Why? Because such a bold progressive stance would mean confronting monopoly right. Instead, it blames workers as a cost of production, demands concessions, shifts the burden for problems onto labour and refuses to face up to the serious inherent contradictions of the monopoly capitalist system and its particular sectors and companies. No! The working class refuses to accept quietly anymore that a political party can introduce this anti-labour garbage into the polity and try to pass it off as an attempt to "help" labour. It is anti-labour rubbish pure and simple and the NDP caucus should be bluntly told that the labour movement rejects its nonsense outright.

In addition, this anti-labour proposal does not even face the actual situation squarely. First, only a minority of Canadians have any kind of company pension plan and only a small percentage of those have a plan with a defined benefit. The proposal for inflation indexing would only affect the minority in Ontario with a defined benefit plan. What about the vast majority of the people? Are they chopped liver? Secondly, the proposal does not speak to the campaign led by the monopolies to destroy all defined benefit plans. Article after article in the monopoly-owned media talks about "the need" to wipe out defined benefit pension plans. Thirdly, using the funded status of a particular direct benefit plan to determine its eligibility for indexing legitimises the campaign of the monopolies against labour's right to its defined benefit pensions as "too expensive for monopolies and the economy", and its crusade against the broader right of all Canadians to a guaranteed Canadian standard livelihood until they pass away. Why? Because the right of the people to a decent retirement is "too expensive for the monopolies and their economy". Nonsense! The level of the productive forces and the availability of natural resources in Canada show clearly that all people could be guaranteed a Canadian standard livelihood from birth to passing away. It is the monopolies and monopoly rule that are blocking progress. Their demands are the cause of crises, not "lack of funds" or the ups and downs of an economic cycle.

Unfunded pension liabilities are one of the arguments of the monopolies for pension restructuring negotiations. They brandish the unfunded pensions as a threat to transfer distressed plans to the Ontario Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund, essentially washing their hands of the pension legacy obligation. By combining the indexing issue with the funded status of particular plans, the NDP caucus falls into the broader trap of basing all workers' claims on the economic status of particular monopolies, commercial sectors or the economy. This gives monopolies additional psychological ammunition against labour. It gives them an incentive to step up their demands for restructuring and concessions on pensions, benefits, other labour claims and work rules. By implication the NDP proposal suggests that concessions are solutions to economic difficulties for monopolies, commercial sectors and even the economy in general, as a lower inflation indexing would allegedly assist the unfunded plan. This supports the tired old line that labour must suffer the burden of the economic problems of the capitalist system for the good of the rich and their monopolies. 

Monopolies even use economic difficulties, real or perceived, to say that labour law and human rights legislation should no longer apply. The labour movement is beginning to reject this reactionary thesis and cannot condone the NDP caucus throwing it in the face of labour and prettifying it on behalf of the rich and their monopolies.

Every aspect of pension plans must be separated from the economic ups and downs of particular monopolies. They must be forced to uphold their social responsibilities under all conditions or have their assets seized by the government. It is not as "complicated" as the NDP caucus moans. The "complicated" aspect is to find in their hearts the courage to confront the monopolies and ensure that they do not trump public and labour right. Monopoly right must be restricted if any social or economic problem is to be resolved.

The economic problems of a particular monopoly or sector should in no way lead to the negation of the pension rights of workers. Solutions to economic problems either in their particularity or in the general sense must be found in the basic workings of the economy not by attacking the legitimate claims of labour, the necessary human factor of Canada's economy.

Vesting

Statistics show that more and more Ontarians are changing their jobs more and more frequently.... 

Vesting means that an employee who terminates employment has a right to the portion of the pension benefit provided by the employer contributions. Before a plan is vested, an employee who terminates employment and membership in a pension plan only receives back her contributions plus interest. 

There is a strong argument to amend the PBA [Pension Benefits Act] to require immediate vesting when an employee joins a pension plan....

[O]ne option would be to implement full and immediate vesting from Day one as in Quebec. Other options include 90 days or even one year before full vesting kicks-in.

Of course companies should not be allowed to seize the amount vested in a pension plan from day one. Any delay in vesting gives a company an incentive to terminate the employment of individuals just prior to vesting, as it can then take back the portion claimed by the pension plan. It is quite scandalous that the NDP caucus even contemplates "90 days or even one year before full vesting kicks-in". However, vesting does not usually guarantee anything toward a Canadian standard retirement by any means. Most often private sector plans are automatically terminated. Vesting even creates a situation where the amount in the pension fund is seen as a form of termination pay for desperate workers who have just been laid off or lost their employment through injury or illness. If the employee has a choice, what young family or individual in dire need of funds when unemployed will not cash in their pension fund, vested or not? It is especially difficult for young workers to resist cashing in the plan, given the uncertainty and confusion surrounding its future viability. Vesting is another aspect of a pension reality that ties workers' retirement rights to the economic or even morale status of particular companies for whom they may work, the stability of the general economy over the length of individuals' working lives and their record of employment.

To defend their retirement rights and uphold the dignity of labour, the people's movement must force the government to claim from every company over a certain size enough social product to properly fund a Canadian standard retirement for all Canadians. All retirement money claimed by the government must immediately leave the purview of the companies in the same manner as other government claims. Retirement funds are not a company's money or responsibility; they are the claim of society on the social product for the well-being of all during retirement. Those funds must be handled by the state in a modern enlightened manner. (Pensions funds and the people's right to be involved in their management are discussed in another section.)

Retirement must become a social responsibility of the social economy. Retirement in a social economy is not an individual responsibility or even the responsibility of particular collectives with regard to oneself or one's work place. It is a social responsibility of the entire social economy to fund adequately society's claims to meet the needs of all its seniors. Retirement cannot depend on employee income taxes, sales taxes, employee payroll pension deductions or any other secondary appropriation of added-value or revenue. Retirement funds must be claimed directly from added-value at the point of production and from revenue from those non-producing enterprises over a certain size. Retirement must be seen and practised as a social responsibility that is supported by government claims on the aggregate social product. The government has the right and a duty to claim social product from all companies over a certain size to maintain a Canadian standard retirement for all.

Vesting is an archaic concept that ties the well-being of an individual to a particular employer and the fortunes, misfortunes or bad behaviour of that particular employer. Putting the onus on individual workers and specific collectives means that there is no mechanism to guarantee an outcome. It cannot and does not work in a social economy because the managers and owners of capital abuse their positions of trust as stewards of the economic base, and the economic contradictions of the system itself cause problems that result in bankruptcy and collapse. Social policy and programmes must be in the hands of elected-subject-representatives of the sovereign people and fully accountable to them. Social problems need social solutions.

Public Sector Portability

Portability between pension plans is another issue that must be addressed.... [T]housands of Ontario [public] workers...on retirement will receive benefits from 2 or more plans...[and] through no fault of their own, find themselves caught in the middle of a confused pension mess.... Many private sector workers find themselves in similar circumstances when they change jobs.

Portability, similar to vesting, is a response of workers fighting to look after their collective interests at one enterprise after another. Portability and vesting only remain relevant in the absence of society taking up its responsibilities to guarantee a Canadian standard retirement for all or make sense within a socially responsible setup. Does the NDP caucus argue that healthcare should be an individual responsibility for workers and their collectives at every particular enterprise where they work? Does the caucus argue that Canada should adopt a US-style workplace-centred health insurance system? If health insurance became the reality, the caucus could then begin a campaign for vesting and portability of workplace-centred healthcare insurance. Retirement, healthcare and education are social problems that demand social solutions guaranteed by the society, not individual or workplace-centred solutions.

Policy Options [for Portability]

We would also clarify the rules surrounding pension portability to ensure that in an increasingly mobile job market Ontarians are able to smoothly transfer between pension plans with no loss in earned pension benefits. It may be that the appropriate "portability" rules will differ between public and private sector pension plans but in both sectors the principle that there should be no loss of benefits (including those earned when covered by a "richer" plan) will be maintained.

This policy option reveals a caucus stuck in the old corrupt world of private ownership and control of public social programmes and public works – public-private-partnerships in social programmes and public works. The words "earned pension benefits" and "benefits... earned when covered by a 'richer' plan" express a mindset that cannot contemplate social programmes controlled by the public through elected representatives that are subject to the sovereign people. The mumbo-jumbo and confusion surrounding vesting and portability of pensions voice the attempts of those that are desperately seeking private or public-private-partnership solutions to social problems. This blocks the way forward for humanity to solve its problems in a way that suits the people. It favours the most powerful centres of capital that do not want to relinquish control of any aspect of the economy or social life and allow the people to build a society fit for human beings. It lets the rich and the monopolies they control off the hook from facing up to the obligations and social responsibilities of the social economy under their control. Without taking an unequivocal stand that a Canadian standard livelihood during retirement is a right, the NDP caucus opens a way for the rich and their monopolies to fudge and even dismiss outright the claims of society on the added-value and revenue of the social economy necessary to sustain the retirement of all Canadians.

The sad reality in Ontario is that as of January 1, 2000, only 40 per cent of Ontario employees were covered by an employer sponsored pension plan, which was below the national mean of 40.7 per cent. 

This means a full 60 per cent of working Ontarians had no employer sponsored plan! And of the 40 per cent that do have a plan, 15 per cent were covered by defined contribution plans that offer little in the way of a secure retirement income.

The problem is described: only 25 per cent of working Ontarians have a defined-benefit workplace pension plan. Many of the 25 per cent are found in public service, which until recently provided the most secure employment. Others not working directly for governments, especially in the manufacturing sector, face a high degree of insecurity of employment and an increasing possibility of bankruptcy-enforced loss of defined benefits. What should Ontario do? How should government solve this problem of 75 per cent of working Ontarians having no defined benefits and the 25 per cent minority facing growing threats of bankruptcy, workplace closures, layoffs, government programme cutbacks or privatisation, and for all, the ever-present dread that their defined benefits will not be honoured?

Here the NDP caucus paper plays tricks with the reader. First, it ignores the reality that the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the mass media are leading a determined battle by the monopolies to discredit and eliminate all defined-benefit pension plans. Second, it does not face up to the reality that a workplace based pension plan is open to abuse, corruption and simple liquidation unless it is universal and carries an absolute guarantee endorsed by society and is overseen by an elected public body preferably drawn from the pensioners themselves. Third, it offers a couple of possible reforms and then just as quickly dismisses them as unfeasible. Suspicion mounts that the caucus is plagued by the old social-democratic politics of throwing around policy objectives that sound fine enough but are never given any life because the proponents are afraid to claim enough social product from the monopolies to sustain the programmes.

One option to increase coverage would be to legislate a policy of pension universalism. Implementing a policy of pension universalism would make the provision of pensions mandatory for all paid workers in Ontario.... 

For small and medium size employers, e.g. those with fewer than 500 employees, one proposal would be to allow employers to opt into any one of a dozen or so large multi-employer pension plans [MEPPs] approved by the Government by regulation.... The MEPPs would be also administered privately (i.e. not by Government).... [T]he particular MEPP each employer participates in would be subject to collective bargaining or simply up to the employer.

Then, even this timid reform is quickly dismissed.

While the proportion of working Ontarians covered under defined benefit pension plans is far too low, it may be premature to call for mandatory defined benefit pension plans in Ontario.

Why premature? Because the monopolies would throw a hissy fit denouncing the NDP from one end of the country to the other as communist! Instead, a vague scheme is weakly suggested without any details.

[A]n NDP government would implement a number of measures in support of the creation of new MEPPs in a range of industries and other communities of interest.

The truly universal and progressive proposal for a Canada/Quebec Pension Plan that guarantees everyone a Canadian standard livelihood in retirement is then dismissed out of hand. Such a CPP/QPP could even be adjusted to reflect the higher working-livelihood of the particular retiree and would be financed not from income or payroll taxes but with social product claimed by the government directly from all companies down to a certain size.

Ideally, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) would be the ultimate guarantor of a decent retirement income, but, clearly, there is still a long way to go before the CPP adequately plays this role.

It is noteworthy that the crucial issue of financing of pension plans is mostly ignored in the caucus paper. Current payroll deductions for CPP/QPP and RRPs are anti-labour and regressive in the extreme. For most people, retirement is an indirect collective claim on Canada's social product. An indirect claim is not the result of participating in active living labour, which can be enforced with organised collective direct labour action. Indirect claims have to be collected and enforced by government using the authority of the law. All indirect claims by the people on social product for social programmes must come from the source, the point of production. All companies over a certain size must pay into a retirement fund to be administered by special regional elected public pension committees.

Another more advanced proposal would abolish retirement funds and plans altogether and pay all retirement entitlements from the federal (and Quebec) government's budgeted current accounts. The entitlements should be universal, such as healthcare, with no personal premiums, payroll deductions, sales or income taxes. Entitlements should guarantee everyone a Canadian-standard livelihood until passing away in dignity. Canada and Quebec would claim enough social product directly from companies over a certain size to pay for the entitlements. Retirement in that way becomes a true social responsibility and commitment among the generations.

So, what is the last word of the NDP caucus on the lack of pension coverage?

The NDP would appoint a Royal Commission on Pensions to develop a long-term plan....

What a complete cop-out!

Article Index



RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Daily Internet Edition Index Page