THE big pensions clash between the trade unions and the government is underway after nine unions representing 1.5 million council workers agreed to ballot for strike action over the government’s plan to end their final salary pensions and add years to their retirement age.
UNISON, AMICUS, TGWU, GMB, UCATT, CWU, Napo, NUT and FBU have agreed to ballot, with UNISON’s industrial action committee agreeing to ballot one million of its members.
UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said: ‘This dispute is the biggest issue UNISON has faced for decades.’
AMICUS General Secretary, Derek Simpson, said: ‘Last year our local authority members responded decisively to the question about whether they would resort to industrial action to defend their pension terms.
‘The proposals on the table now are worse than they were then so it is safe to assume that they will vote again to strike and we will do everything we can to support them in the fight.’
GMB National Secretary, Brian Strutton, said: ‘GMB decided to ballot over 200,000 members after extensive discussions last year between the trade unions and Local Government employers failed to keep all negotiating options on the table pending a wholesale review of the pension scheme later in 2006.
‘So the TUs are, once again, having to fight to defend local government workers’ pensions.’
Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the NUT, said: ‘Six thousand members of the NUT who work directly for local authorities, such as advisers to schools, are threatened with worsened pension arrangements than they would have had if they had stayed in schools – this is simply not acceptable.’
Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: ‘Of the 999 services fire crews have been singled out for the worst treatment.
‘Police, ambulance and coastguards have been granted protection for current members of their pension schemes, but we are not even offered that.’
The Labour government intends to end their final salary pensions and replace them with much inferior average salary pensions. At the same time, members will have to work till 65 to get them, and in the case of the Fire Service an extra 10 years, pushing up the minimum retirement age to 60.
1.5 million workers are being balloted for strike action on this issue, but many more millions of workers in the private sector, who are seeing their final salary pensions being ripped apart by the government and the employers, will be supporting them.
As well, old age pensioners, who want to see their state pension linked to annual rises in average earnings, will be 100 per cent with them.
If Blair is walking the high wire with his attempt to develop an education market by freeing schools from local authority control, on the issue of pension he is walking the high wire without a balancing pole and over Niagara Falls as well.
There is only one way for the trade unions to proceed to win this struggle.
They must ballot for indefinite strike action and invite all those in the private sector, who are seeing their private salary pensions being destroyed, to join the action.
Having launched the action they must see it through to defeat the government by bringing it crashing down off its high wire.
Having brought down the Blair government, the trade unions must then replace it with a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies – including nationalising the banks to provide the finances to guarantee all final salary pensions and a state pension linked to average earnings.
This is the way to win the struggle over pensions.