UNISON leader Dave Prentis yesterday confessed that local government union leaders were unwilling combatants with the Blair government, over its plan to smash their members’ final salary pensions and add five years to their retirement age, increasing it from 60 to 65.
Prentis said referring to tomorrow’s strike: ‘We never wanted this to happen. We’ve been trying to negotiate, for over two years now, a new pensions scheme which will be viable and take account of all of the things that the government wanted.’
Speaking on behalf of the unwilling warriors in the leadership of the local government trade unions, Prentis stressed that, like all of the reformist trade union leaders he had been trying to give the government what it wanted, the end of the final salary pensions scheme, and at the same time avoid being lynched by the membership.
The thought of defying the bosses and their government did not enter the reformist trade union leaders’ minds. They are definitely not militant about defending final salary pensions or about defending any of the basic gains of the working class, be it the NHS or basic rights.
The solution of the local government union leaders to their dilemma was that the government should accept that all the present staff should continue to enjoy a final salary pension, but that all new staff should be on average salary pensions and work five years extra till they are 65.
They explain that in a decade or so the government and the ruling class would have what they wanted, while the trade union bureaucracy might be able to save their own jobs.
They are willing to sell the tomorrow of the working class and set new staff against the unions that negotiated away their conditions of service before they even started work, to give the bosses what they wanted and save their own skins.
This is the solution that they have already agreed for the civil servants, hospital workers and teachers, and also the firefighters.
Over the next decade or so, in order not to have to fight the bosses and the government on behalf of all their members, they are willing to eliminate final salary pensions completely out of the public sector, worsening the standard of life for millions of workers, as a direct result of their political cowardice.
However, they have met up with an extremely ungrateful and bloodthirsty ruling class and government.
The crisis of capitalism is now so great that they are not willing to wait for a decade or so to finally eradicate public sector final salary pension schemes.
So, all of the attempts of the trade union bureaucracy to convince the government that they should do it their way have come to nought, and the ‘unwilling’ union leaders of the local government sector unions are faced with fighting the government, something which they dread.
The government knows the pitiable reformist character of these leaders. In fact they are relying on them to run away after a couple of protest actions, leaving their members to their fate.
Then, no doubt, the government having made use of the split in the public sector, will turn its attention back to the civil servants, teachers and hospital workers, and take them on.
Local government workers must immediately demand that their leaders must defend their final salary pension schemes, without any equivocation. There must be no split engineered between present and future local government workers.
Leaders who will not defend final salary pensions for the whole of the working class must be forced to resign.
In fact, all public sector workers must stop with the local government workers tomorrow.
The 24-hour strike must be a warning shot across the bows of the Blair government. An indefinite strike action must be called, and all workers who have a pension to defend must join the action.
Further, having taken on the government, the trade unions must be prepared to bring it down to go forward to a workers’ government that will guarantee all final salary pension schemes, and link all increases in the state pension to increases in average wages. This is the way forward.