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Volume 41 Number 19, June 25, 2011 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Hands off Pensions! Oppose the Government's Anti-Worker and Anti-Social Programme!

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Hands off Pensions! Oppose the Government's Anti-Worker and Anti-Social Programme!

Central London March and Other Protests Finalised for 30 June Pension Strikes

The Coalition Government Inflames the Situation

An Anti-War Government Must Be Established

The Labour Party’s Quest to Redefine Itself

For Your Reference:
The Coalition’s “Programme for Government” on Pensions and Older People

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Hands off Pensions! Oppose the Government's Anti-Worker and Anti-Social Programme!

{short description of image} Photo Peter Marshall

On June 30, hundreds of thousands will strike, join picket lines and demonstrate in defence of their pension rights. Many more workers will show their unity with those who are striking by attending rallies and meetings. The education workers’ and civil servants’ unions which voted in favour of strike action on that day are the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), the NUT (National Union of Teachers), the UCU (University and College Union) and the PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union).

Peter Marshall Peter Marshall

The NUT’s pensions ballot showed a massive 92% in favour of action, and the ATL’s ballot was a decisive 83% in favour. Lecturer’s union the UCU and civil servants in the PCS are also taking strike action on pensions on June 30. They openly declare that they are striking for the alternative.

This is a crucial struggle for all workers. For not a few of the trade unionists taking action on June 30, it is the first time that they have been on strike. This demonstrates the depth of resolve of working people on this issue.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Now is the time to defend our pensions. NUT and ATL members have already sent a message to the Government by voting to support strike action. Let’s make our strike on 30 June a huge success and send an even stronger message.”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “While ordinary people suffer huge cuts in their standards of living, the richest 1,000 people in Britain saw their collective wealth rise by 18% last year.”

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “These results send a clear message to the government that public sector workers do not believe they should be made to pay with their pensions for a recession they did not cause, and we send our support and solidarity to all NUT and ATL members.”

The government is making unconscionable declarations that teachers and others are being irresponsible. The allegation is being made that they are jeopardising the children’s future.

On the contrary. The stand that teachers and others are taking in defence of their rights is a most responsible stand. How dare a government which is savagely cutting social programmes and privatising essential public services accuse the working people in this way! Who is being irresponsible?

Teachers and public sector workers know not only that they are taking a stand of principle, but that it is a stand in defence of social programmes and public services. Because teachers, for example, care about the future of education and about the students under their tuition, they are unwilling to see the standards of their profession and the conditions of their work subject to attack and denigration.

In taking a stand, they are putting in pride of place the dignity of their profession and the interests and wellbeing of their pupils and the education system as a whole. It is to the great honour of teachers and public sector workers that, irrespective of political outlook, they are acting as a collective, discussing the issues, supporting one another and developing their social consciousness. This is very crucial in working out how to change the situation to favour not only their own interests but in taking up responsibility for the well-being of all.

This is an issue which concerns the whole of society. WWIE salutes the stand being taken by public sector workers and those in the education sector. This stand is an important factor in the fight for an alternative direction for the economy so that it serves the interests of the working class and the interests of the whole of society.

PCS on civil servants’ pensions:

Acting together public sector employees can stop the government’s unjustified assault.

The arguments are clear. The civil service pension schemes were renegotiated by unions working together in 2005 and are sustainable. In fact the costs are falling.

The extra contributions will go straight to the Treasury, where the government will use the money for deficit reduction rather than growing the economy.

The government wants one-in-five jobs to be cut while redundancy pay is slashed; everyone to work to 68 for a much smaller pension; and pay frozen while inflation soars.

We demand no compulsory redundancies with fair pay-offs for volunteers; pensions based on the agreement made in 2005; and pay to keep pace with inflation.

The coalition has already watered down its attacks on public forests, coastguards and the health service because of public pressure.

On 30 June it’s time to take a stand outside offices, schools, museums and other government buildings to defend public servants and public services.


Further reference:

PCS strike news, guidance and resources: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/30-june/

PCS monthly campaign newsletter “The alternative”, June 2011

NUT: The Strike and Your Frequently Asked Questions

Unison on Public Service Pension Reform, May 2011

Unison Pension Strategy Fact Sheet

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Central London March and Other Protests Finalised for 30 June Pension Strikes

March fo the AlternativeMembers of the University and College Union (UCU), National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and Public and Commercial Services (PCS) trade unions will march through central London on Thursday 30 June as part of nationwide protests against plans to change pensions for teachers, lecturers and civil and public servants.

Protesters will assemble at Lincoln's Inn Fields from 11am and the march will set off at 11.40am. The route will take them down Kingsway, along the Strand, down Whitehall and across Parliament Square to Central Hall Westminster for a rally.

The Central Hall Westminster rally will start at 1.15pm and speakers will include UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt; NUT general secretary, Christine Blower; ATL general secretary Mary Bousted and PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka.


Selected regional events:

Exeter - TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, will address protesters an 11am rally at the Corn Exchange. There will then be a march to Belmont Park for a music festival, led by Billy Bragg, from 1pm.

Bristol - Protesters from Bristol and Bath will assemble outside College Green at 10.30am and march to Castle Green for a rally at 12noon.

Oxford - Protesters will assemble at Oxford Town Hall on Pembroke Street at 1.30pm and march through the city centre to Bonn Square for a 2.30pm rally.

Birmingham - Protesters from across the west midlands will meet in Victoria Square for a rally at 12noon.

Nottingham - Protesters will assemble outside Forest Recreation Ground at 11.30am before marching to Trinity Square for a rally at 12noon. At 1pm there will be a meeting at the Albert Hall on North Circus Street.

Liverpool - Protesters will assemble at the top of William Brown Street at 11.30am and march to the Black-E arts centre on Great George Street for a rally at 12.30pm.

Manchester - Protesters will meet at 11am at All Saints Park on Oxford Road and march to the Castlefield Arena for a rally at 12.30pm.

Newcastle - Protesters from across the north east will assemble at the Centre for Life in Times Square and march through the city centre to Grey's Monument for a rally at 12.30pm.

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The Coalition Government Inflames the Situation

Chief Secretary to Treasury Danny Alexander stated on June 17 that the pension age for six million public sector workers must rise to match state pension age, which is increasing to 66. He said that public sector workers must accept they will have to work longer and pay more into their pension pots in order to guarantee that they continue to receive better pensions than those in the private sector.

Unions held emergency talks on June 17 to decide how to respond to the government's intervention.

Brian Strutton, a negotiator for the GMB union, told the BBC that if Alexander's plans were non-negotiable, it would be a "show-stopper".

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: "We've been heavily criticised by the government for balloting for industrial action while talks are ongoing, and yet Danny Alexander will apparently admit they're not planning to change their minds.

"Every expert who has looked at this recently has confirmed that the changes we agreed just a few years ago have put public sector pensions on a sustainable footing, so these cuts are unnecessary and deliberately provocative."

Unite, the country’s largest union which has 250,000 members working in the public sector, said that the Treasury-led attack on the on-going talks between ministers and unions, under the auspices of the TUC, was “disgraceful”.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “It is completely wrong of Danny Alexander to hit the media airwaves to make detailed announcements on the current negotiations. It is tantamount to bombing the talks.

”We have moved in the flash of a media soundbite from tough, detailed negotiations to gunboat diplomacy by the Treasury.

”As a result, millions of public sector workers, many of them women, such as classroom assistants, health visitors, and nursery nurses are in the firing line and face complete uncertainty about their future pension.

”Independent pension experts and analysts have repeatedly warned against Treasury-led ‘quick fixes’ which threaten the very viability of the public sectors schemes. This is because people will just leave the schemes as they can’t either afford the contributions or the benefits they will receive will be so low - or both.

”Danny Alexander has raised issues, such as specific contributions’ increases, which have never been raised in the talks.

”Our position is that we entered the TUC-led talks in good faith and at the conclusion of these talks, we will put the details to our members for their views. Today’s gunboat diplomacy gravely threatens the integrity of these negotiations.”

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: "At such a critical time in complex negotiations, this is a deeply inflammatory public intervention with a clumsy mix of announcements, apparently designed to pre-empt the talks, coupled with crude threats that even worse terms might be imposed if unions refuse to acquiesce to this assault on their pensions.

"Many of the detailed proposals set out by Danny Alexander have not even been put to the TUC negotiators, and the government has yet to give a response to specific proposals tabled by the trade union side.

"I have found over many years that if you are seriously trying to build trust to settle a difficult dispute, you should talk honestly and openly inside the negotiating room and exercise self-restraint outside."

Barber said the speech and the "media-spinning operation around it has dealt a serious blow to union confidence in the government's good faith in these talks".

(compiled from reports)

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An Anti-War Government Must Be Established

Last week the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party reaffirmed their commitment to the wars in Libya and Afghanistan. The only difference between them appeared to be the question of whether the government was devoting sufficient financial and other resources in the pursuit of these aggressive wars.

In regard to Libya, the Prime Minister was confident that the war, which has now been waged for over three months, could be pursued for “as long as it takes” and that it would be brought to what he referred to as a “satisfactory conclusion”. He added that his only concern was whether the government could deploy even more destructive weaponry, including the unmanned “drones”, which it is reported are being supplied in a £1 billion deal by the Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit. The use of drones by Zionist Israel in occupied Palestine and by the US in Pakistan and elsewhere for assassination and other war crimes has been widely condemned and often results in the loss of many innocent lives. It speaks volumes that the Prime Minister of Britain is anxious to deploy such barbaric weapons in Libya, where the British government and its allies claim that they are protecting the lives of civilians, but where it is clear to all that they want to install a regime more favourable to their interests.

Sebrata City Bombing Sebrata City Bombing
Rescuers working amidst the ruins of house struck by NATO bombs in Sebrata City, Libya, some 50 miles west of Tripoli, on June 20, 2011. The house belonged to El-Khweldi el-Hamedi, a member of the historic leadership in Sebrata City, a Libyan government spokesman said.

This strong commitment for a continuation of war crimes and crimes against peace comes in a week when there has been increasing evidence of NATO attacks against the homes of civilians, causing many deaths, in addition to the previous attacks on schools, universities and the infrastructure of Libya, which the people of that country have worked so hard over many years to construct. The barbaric and illegal nature of NATO’s war on Libya has led to growing international condemnation and this week also led to calls for an immediate ceasefire by the Italian government and by Amr Moussa, the outgoing head of the Arab League. Moussa’s position reflects growing opposition to NATO’s war on Libya throughout the North Africa and the Middle East. Recent weeks have also seen strong opposition to the war expressed by the African Union and by the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.

Both the Arab League and South Africa originally backed UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which provided the justification for the invasion of Libya. Last week Zuma informed the South African parliament, “We strongly believe that the resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation.” For its part, the African Union has recently reiterated calls for an immediate ceasefire, the need for the Libyan people to decide the political future of their country, and the implementation of the AU “road map” for Libya. The AU expressed its strong concern about what it referred to as “the dangerous precedent being set by one-sided interpretations” of UN Security Council Resolutions on Libya, and “about the consequences that may result for international legality”. It also condemned attempts to sideline the AU as the main body to resolve conflicts in Africa, pointing out that its role was even recognised in UNSC Resolution 1973. The stand of the AU was also in opposition to the instructions issued to it by US Secretary of State Clinton who arrogantly demanded should back NATO and the so-called National Transitional Council in Libya and take measure to isolate and force from office the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

It has become clearer that on the question of Libya as on many other international conflicts the world is divided into two. On one side are the handful of warmongering powers – Britain, the US and their allies – who assert that might is right and that by intervention, aggression and war they can issue threats and demands and order the world according to their narrow interests. On the other side stand the overwhelming majority who are opposed to this barbaric method of conducting relations between countries, as well as political affairs within countries. The UN, that was itself established to prevent aggression and maintain international peace, is now being dominated by the warmongers and aggressors who claim that they are the greatest defenders of peace and democracy.

The illegal war in Libya must be condemned and immediately brought to an end and the war criminals made to answer for their crimes. The people of Libya and all countries must be allowed to decide their political future without outside interference. The democratic and peace-loving people of Britain must take matters into their own hands and take all necessary measures to establish an anti-war government.

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Commentary

The Labour Party’s Quest to Redefine Itself

Labour leader Ed Miliband recently gave a speech at the Royal Festival Hall entitled “The Promise of Britain”, followed by another on the subject of “responsibility” at the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, London. Together with so-called leaks and revelations over brother David and Ed Balls, Labour has suddenly found itself back in the headlines after a quiet year in Opposition.

Over the past year, Labour has been trying to present a renewed sense of purpose, to redefine what Labour is for. The experience of the Blair and Brown New Labour years has thoroughly discredited the party, as it turned its back on old-Labour social democracy and exposed itself as the champion of big business, the anti-social offensive and war. With the issue of working class representation again coming to the fore, the question coming from even some traditional sections of support is: what is the point in Labour?

Labour has been struggling to rediscover its sense of direction, and Ed Miliband has been attempting to revive a role for the party by defining a new line of division in politics. In place of left vs right, the new divide is over values: echoing Blair’s “forces of progress” vs “conservatism”, Miliband wants Labour to become “the natural home for progressives”, to quote a speech he made on “Social Democracy” a year ago to the Engineering Employers’ Federation.

The party is also struggling to define who it represents. This is particularly pertinent for Labour, which derives much of its financial backing from the big unions. It is no longer a party of its members, unlike the mass Labour party of a century ago.

Miliband dreams of refounding Labour as a kind of mass party all over again, this time on the basis of values. In his speech to Labour’s National Policy Forum last autumn, he called for people to “join us on this journey. Join us on this journey which makes us once again the people’s party.”

With a “mission” of “standing up for the hopes and aspirations of people”, Labour is trying to rebrand itself as a movement-based mass party. As he said in a speech to the Fabian Society in May of last year, “The Labour Party needs not just to be an electoral force, but movement for change in every part of the country.”

Of course, an electoral force is exactly what Labour has been for decades. Miliband recognises what Labour as a mass party once was – a party whose roots were in the extra-parliamentary mass movement. But by sleight of hand, he redefines movements themselves as simply representative of values. “How do we become a movement again? First of all you have to have high ideal. You have to show how you’re going to change the country.”

He sums it up as follows: “We will learn from our mistakes, we will be once again a party that is rooted in your values, rooted in your life and a party that can build the kind of country you want to see in Britain. And my message to our party is this: let’s move on from the politics of Blairites and Brownites and unite around a new set of ideas.

“... all the great political movements of history have been built from the bottom up ... That is the sort of politics I believe in. That is how we become not just a party, but a movement and a cause.”

As to the actual content of these high ideals, Miliband has referred explicitly in his speeches to the end of the old Social Contract: “Until the 1960s and 70s, there was a settlement that gave working people a sense of security through pensions, wages and work. That cannot be reproduced.”

The old arrangements are truly at an end – he has officially set the seal on that. The Labour Party is no longer that party. On the other hand, in the same speech he also claims that he is “a great defender of the Welfare State. It is what a civilised society depends upon ... We need to refound the Welfare State.”

Miliband attempts to cover over the contradiction through a redefinition of what is meant by Social Democracy and the Welfare State, and trying to find a new relationship, as he calls it, between “the state and the individual”: “We need to refound the welfare state: not just on need, but also on ... responsibility and contribution. And we need to give everyone more of a stake in the system.”

Behind the gossip, the intrigues surrounding the Milibands and Ed Balls is a background of crisis over what kind of party the Labour Party actually is. This question also faces the movement to build the Workers’ Opposition: what kind of party favours the interests of the working class and broad masses of the people; what should be the characteristics of a mass workers’ party, a party which has the aim of aim of democratic renewal, politicising and enabling the people to raise their level of participation in the political life of the country? What kind of party does the working class require to constitute itself the nation and vest sovereignty in the people? It is this question that demands serious discussion by the working class, and which the Labour Party is profoundly unable to answer.

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For Your Reference

The Coalition’s “Programme for Government” on Pensions and Older People

The Coalition’s “Programme for Government” (PFG) was published on May 20, 2010, and is the Coalition’s “5 Year Policy Programme”. The PFG makes various promises with regard to pensions and older people, piously stating:

The Government believes that people deserve dignity and respect in old age, and that they should be provided with the support they need. That means safeguarding key benefits and pensions, and taking action to make it easier for older people to work or volunteer.

On public sector pensions, the PFG does state the government’s intentions:

We will commit to establishing an independent commission to review the long-term affordability of public sector pensions’ while protecting accrued rights.

Following on from this on June 20, 2010, the Coalition commissioned John Hutton to do a public pensions review (Lord Hutton, significantly is an ex-Labour Works and Pensions Secretary, and before that a trade union official) which he published in October 2010. A report in The Guardian of October 7 said that trade union leaders warned that Hutton’s proposals would amount to a “significant pay cut” and “leave 6 million nurses, teachers and council workers worse off in retirement”. Hutton’s report recommends: “Public sector workers should immediately pay more into their pension schemes to ease the £32bn annual burden on the public purse, his report said. It also said the lowest-paid should be protected.” Hutton claimed: “Final salary schemes are ‘unsustainable’ and should be replaced with average salary programmes to make them fairer on people who earn less at the end of their careers.” The Guardianreport pointed out that Coalition ministers, including Nick Clegg, has described public sector pensions as “gold plated” which Hutton sought to deny. The report went on to say: “Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, said public servants would be angered by Hutton's recommendations. ‘Public sector workers are already facing job cuts, a pay freeze and increased workloads as they are expected to do more with less,’ […] Bob Crow, the general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: ‘The summary of the ConDem pension enforcers' proposals is clear – work longer, pay more and get less.’.” (The fact that Hutton is an ex-Labour minister demonstrates how much Labour are in agreement with the Con-Dem coalition regarding cuts. This is reinforced in The Guardian report which quoted Liam Byrne the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, who said: "I strongly agree with John Hutton that public sector pensions need to be affordable for Britain and sustainable for the long term. As people live longer, workers will need to contribute more.”)

George Osborne in his Spending Review (given shortly after the Hutton Report) said of Hutton: “I welcome his findings – and I hope it will form the basis of a new deal, that balances the legitimate expectations of hard working public servants for a decent income in retirement with the equally legitimate demands of hard-working taxpayers that they do not pay unfairly for it.” Osborne typically attempts to create a completely false division between the (by implication) pampered “public servants” and the “hard working tax payers” as if “public servants” are not also “hard working taxpayers”! Both Hutton and Osborne make out that “taxpayers” in general unfairly have to shoulder the burden of these supposedly massive public sector pensions. In fact, a little over half of public sector pensions are only £5,600 per year. Osborne says further: “So I think we should accept, as John Hutton does, that there has to be an increase in employee contributions, although I also agree with John that this should be staggered and progressive.”

On March 10, 2011, Lord Hutton published his Report on Public Sector pensions. A BBC report detailed as follows: “The most significant recommendation is that existing pensions should be changed from a final-salary basis, to a pay-out based on average pay over workers' careers.

“Lord Hutton says this would be possible to carry out by the end of this Parliament, in 2015. However, the switch could take longer for some schemes, such as the police and armed forces pension schemes.

“Arguably as important as the career average plan is the recommendation to raise the age at which people are entitled to draw their pension to the same as the state pension, as people live for longer Plans are for the state pension age to reach 66 for both men and women by April 2020.

“Uniformed services – the armed forces, police and fire-fighters – should see their pension age rise to 60, Lord Hutton says.

“In addition, there should be a cap on the cost of public sector pensions to the taxpayer. The schemes should also be made simpler, need more independent oversight, and employees should be involved more in decisions about how the schemes are run, he says.

“Public sector pensions are already changing. In his interim report, Lord Hutton pointed out that the cost of public sector pensions was dropping by 25% already.

“This was the result of pensions in payment being tagged to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation, rather that the Retail Prices Index (RPI) which is traditionally higher. The pension age has also been raised to 65 for most new recruits in many schemes. With more job losses to come and a pay freeze in place, the cost will continue to fall.”

The government has already accepted a previous recommendation of Lord Hutton that public servants should soon pay higher contributions.”

The government is pursuing the recommendations of the Hutton Report, which means teachers (and many other public sector workers) having to pay more in pension contributions, working longer, and receiving less in retirement. It effectively means a pay cut for all teachers, as well as drastically cutting the value of pensions.

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