Public sector pensions battle set to erupt

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TGWU full-time officer OLIVER RICHARDSON addressing the Gate Gourmet mass picket yesterday morning
TGWU full-time officer OLIVER RICHARDSON addressing the Gate Gourmet mass picket yesterday morning

THE working class continues to pay a massive price for its reformist trade union leadership. This is completely committed to supporting the capitalist government of Tony Blair, at the same time as this government is making war on the people of Iraq and on the working class and its trade unions in Britain.

On both fronts the Labour government is betraying the interests of the working class, whether in Iraq or in Britain. Last March, just before the May general election, the public sector trade unions were committed to a one day general strike on March 23 against the Blair government’s decision to raise the retirement age of public sector workers from 60 to 65 years, and at the same time to cut their pensions by ending their final salary pension schemes.

This massive pensions cutting programme, allied to an additional five years of forced labour, made over 1.5 million public sector workers furious, forcing their timid union leaders to call a one day general strike.

With the Blair government just beginning its re-election campaign the unions had hold of the part where the government hurts most.

A frightened government decided to give a worthless pledge that it was willing to have discussions on all of the contested matters. The union leaders then cancelled the strike, leaving a relieved Labour government free to fight another day.

Union leaders let it be known, at the time, that the Labour government was about to drop the proposal to add five years to the retirement age for the public sector. The union leaders – far more loyal to the Labour government than to their own members – had run away when they could have won the fight.

Yesterday, just four months after the general election, the fruits of that particular betrayal came home to roost. UNISON’s Malcolm Wing told the bourgeois media: ‘It is no secret we are preparing for negotiations breaking down,’ and that the government still planned to increase the retirement age to 65 and to end final salary pensions.

The TUC’s Annual Congress in Brighton is due to begin on September 12 and ministers and union negotiators are then due to meet on September 21, just ahead of Labour’s conference.

The government has confidently declared that there is a ‘general acceptance by all parties that things have got to change’. It knows that the present set of union leaders will try to lead no more than a token fight, before they sell their members out.

It is the same story as far as Iraq is concerned.

Last summer at Warwick, Blair made a number of minor concessions to the union leaders. In return, they reneged on a TUC resolution, which had gone forward to the Labour Party conference, insisting that the government must name the date when the withdrawal from Iraq would begin.

If the motion had been put, it would have been carried and Blair would have been defeated at his own party conference on the war in Iraq.

Such a defeat would have been a massive support for the embattled Iraqi people and a body-blow to the Blair-Bush alliance. But the TUC leaders once again showed that their loyalty was to the government and not to the Iraqi people or their members.

One year on, and tens of thousands of corpses later, the TUC is poised to carry out the same betrayal again this year. The only answer to this class treachery is to build up the revolutionary leadership of the WRP inside the trade unions, and to evict the old reformist leaders.

This means battling for the leadership of the trade unions. We call on all workers and youth to lobby the TUC Congress on Monday September 12, to demand that the TUC call a general strike over pensions, health care and the war in Iraq to bring down the Blair government and to go forward to a workers’ government.