Pensions are now a revolutionary question


TUC leader, Brendan Barber, said yesterday in his gloom and doom-ridden New Year’s message that the Lord Adair Turner pensions report created ‘tough decisions’, adding that trade unions will need to make ‘tough choices’ to deal with the ‘looming crisis’.

He did not mention any measures the TUC will take to defend the final salary pensions schemes that are going down like ninepins in both the public and private sectors. This was for the very good reason that he supports the bankrupt crisis-ridden capitalist system that can no longer provide anybody with a decent pension.

The content of this ‘looming crisis’, that so frightens him, is that since the crisis ridden capitalist system cannot afford viable retirement pensions for the working class and the middle class, to really defend these pensions requires capitalism and the rule of the bosses and bankers to be overthrown. This choice is out, as far as Barber is concerned.

His concern therefore, is how the TUC is going to convince workers to accept the tough choices that the CBI leaders are making for them.

Union leaders like Barber, who think that capitalism is the only possible system, also think that workers must be ‘realistic’ and accept huge cuts in their pensions, and as many as five years extra work before they retire and receive one.

This is the bourgeois programme for solving the pensions crisis, by making sure that millions of workers never reach the pensionable age and pay a lot more for the privilege of dying at work.

Barber referred to the Rentokil Initial decision to close its final salary scheme to its existing members and that this had ‘rung alarm bells in every workplace with a decent pension’.

However, it did not ring any alarm bells at the TUC, which certainly did not urge these worker to join the TUC-led trade unions to take action to defend their pension schemes. The National Association of Pension Funds has followed up Rentokil by stating that other company pension schemes will have to follow Rentokil. In fact, the total pensions deficit among all FTSE 100 companies is estimated at about £40bn. Earlier this month, the Pension Protection Fund estimated that all private sector final salary schemes had a collective deficit of £100bn.

Turning to the ‘tough decisions’ about how to slash the pensions of millions of workers, Barber said there was wide support among union leaders for many of the proposals made by Lord Turner who is sponsored by Prime Minister Blair.

These proposals include increasing the basic state pension in line with earnings, while at the same time increasing taxes and raising the state pension age. He warned ‘More generous state pensions will have to be paid for through the tax system, particularly if we resist raising the state pension age.’

The commission suggests that the state pension age should rise to 66 by 2030, 67 by 2040 and between 68 and 69 by 2050. To avoid big tax increases, the TUC will make a tough choice for its members and fall in line with this plan.

Workers must reject the Barber-TUC line of surrender to the bosses. The trade unions must defend the state pension, demand that increases be linked to increases in average earnings, and defend all of the public and private final salary pension schemes.

The trade unions must take the lead in this fight. They must refuse to accept the ending of the local government final salary pension scheme and call a general strike this winter to bring down the Blair government. They must bring in a workers’ government to solve the pensions crisis by nationalising the big banks and the drug companies, putting them under workers’ control.