Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 48 Number 7, March 17, 2018 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Pension Rights are Taking Central Importance in the Workers' Movement

Bristol lecturers on strike to defend their defined benefit pensions

At the present time, a number of struggles involving different unions at various workplaces have been taking place over pensions. Final salary schemes are being closed and other schemes are being restructured or changed, all to the detriment of the workers who rely on these pensions to secure a decent standard of living in retirement, as is their right.

The history of past, recent and present such battles has shown that the government, parliament or the various regulatory bodies cannot guarantee pension rights for all. Not only do these threats to pensions need to be resisted, workers also need to consider the causes and solutions to ensure that a fully-funded livelihood in old age is guaranteed.

In fighting for pension rights, we must fight for the pensions we want in the course of fighting for the pensions we have. This means also organising for control over the direction of the economy, including restricting the rights assumed by big business to plunder pensions on the basis of their narrow self-serving aims and standpoint that pensions are a cost. It also means fighting the pressure to view pensions as a personal matter, a savings pot for one's retirement that is the responsibility of the individual and a matter of choice. Rather, they are a social necessity and a just claim by workers on the value that they themselves have produced.

One such struggle taking place is the strike action by university lecturers, led by the University and College Union (UCU). Lecturers who are members of the UCU are angry at proposed changes to their pensions, which they say could leave them up to £10,000 a year worse off in retirement. The employers, Universities UK, want to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme from a defined benefit scheme - giving a guaranteed retirement income - to a defined contribution scheme, where their pensions would be subject to changes in the stock market. Younger lecturers would be worst affected, says the union, with some losing up to half their pensions. As a result, lecturers at 64 universities struck work over pensions. Though lecturers were not teaching, marking or carrying out research, demonstrations showed that students widely supported their actions because their rights to a decent education are also involved if the conditions and morale of lecturers are undermined. As always, an injury to one is an injury to all and solidarity is the order of the day.

In another example, BT launched a formal 60-day consultation on proposed changes to the company pension scheme on November 15 last year. The Communication Workers' Union (CWU) has not reached agreement on any of the proposals. BT's proposals could radically change pension provision across the company with pension scheme members affected by proposals that the union believes fail to provide decent pension provision in retirement. The CWU are urging members to firmly say no to all of BT's proposals for both schemes.

Prison officers and their union the Prison Officers Association (POA) are petitioning the government through 38 Degrees, saying: "I want the Government to re-address the issue of the pension age of prison officers from 68 to 60." It is an established fact that the job of a prison officer is one of the most stressful jobs in the country, meaning that many officers do not make their retirement age, and if they do, they do not make it much past the age of 68.


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