Opportunist union leaders sell public sector workers’ future

Gate Gourmet workers picket on the hill near the factory the day after the TUC Congress voted to give its full support for their struggle
Gate Gourmet workers picket on the hill near the factory the day after the TUC Congress voted to give its full support for their struggle

OPPORTUNIST trade union leaders in the health, education and civil service sectors yesterday sold out the future of public sector workers by agreeing that all new starters will work till they are 65, while current staff will be able to retire at 60.

They agreed to add five years to the working life of new entrants and worsen the conditions of employment for all public sector workers in order to try to avoid a conflict with the right wing Blair government, which had been faced with a general strike by 2.5 million public sector workers.

The right and left wing trade unions leaders have rescued Blair once again – at great cost to their members.

They have shown that they will surrender every gain that the working class has made since the end of the Second World War rather than defend those gains by bringing down the Blair government to go forward to a workers government that will carry out socialist policies.

Immediately, by this action they have split the united front with local government workers, creating the conditions for the Blair government to fight it out with the local government sector, before it comes back for them.

However not all of the union leaders were ‘over the moon’ about this sell out.

Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary for the Public Services Section, said: ‘The protection that this deal brings to two million public sector workers comes at a price, which is to concede worse terms based on a retirement age of sixty five for new starters. This creates two tier pensions in public services, which the GMB has campaigned vigorously against. 

‘We will continue to fight for the rights of all public service workers, past, present and future, declared the GMB leader, whose membership is mainly based in the local government sector.

The TUC-led opportunists sought to spin the sell out into a great victory.

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, the leader who negotiated the notorious Gate Gourmet settlement, said: ‘The government have accepted that today’s public sector staff should not have their pensions promise broken, and need suffer no detriment in their pensions arrangements. This has met the major union objective.

‘On top of this, the Government has given important guarantees for the future. All new public pensions schemes will be based on defined benefits, linked to earnings and index linked. All public service workers will continue to be able to retire at 60 – if that is their wish – into the future.’

However, new starters will be on average salary pensions, not final salary pensions, meaning that their pensions will be much smaller, and that if they seek an ‘option’ of retiring at 60 they will have to pay enormous pensions contributions.

The TGWU stated: ‘The public sector unions have given outline agreement to a set of principles . . . These principles also include a degree of flexibility for current public sector workers which will be a part of a forthcoming consultation with union members.’ (our emphasis News Line)

This means that the final salary pensions for current employees are not guaranteed.

Yesterday, UNISON’s Heather Wakefield, a local government lead negotiator for the trade unions, said there can now be no excuse for the employers or government to proceed with the ‘ridiculous proposals’ put forward on 22 September to reduce benefits and increase employee contributions for local government workers. She added that if they did: ‘we will have teachers able to retire at 60 but lower paid school support staff working on until they are 65. Fire fighters and police officers will be allowed to retire at 55 but our members working alongside them will have to work until they are 65.’

Quite. However, this is the scenario that the right wing opportunist union leaders have created by their treachery. They have split the public sector, destroying workers’ unity, and long-established conditions of service, so that Blair can have his way. This is why they must be forced to resign and the deal must be ripped up.