Public sector unions must take strike action over pensions

Locked-out Gate Gourmet workers in high spirits welcomed Father Christmas at their mass picket yesterday
Locked-out Gate Gourmet workers in high spirits welcomed Father Christmas at their mass picket yesterday

THE Fire Brigades Union said yesterday that it will consider industrial action over government plans to ‘reform’ its members’ pensions by dramatically extending the retirement age from 50 to 60 for new starters, and also cutting the value of their pension, and by increasing the retirement age to 55, from 50, by 2013, for all current firefighters.

At the moment firefighters can retire after completing 30 years of service. This is to be changed to 40 years for all new starters.

These proposed changes mean that all firefighters will be paying a lot more in contributions to receive a lot less.

The FBU is due to discuss co-ordinated industrial action alongside the local government workers trade unions at an emergency FBU conference in the New Year.

The FBU has said it is ‘fundamentally opposed’ to the ‘reforms’, which ‘would create a workforce with two-tier benefits with a worse pension for new entrants’.

Local government unions began planning a campaign against the government’s pension reforms at a private meeting last Thursday.

They face their retirement age being raised five years to 65 for all staff by 2006, and their original final salary pension scheme being replaced by a new Local Government Pension Scheme.

There is not the slightest doubt that the FBU and the local government unions must organise national indefinite strike action to defend their pensions and retirement ages from the attacks of the Labour government.

If they do not they will be cut to pieces.

The proof of this is the split that has developed in the public sector between the civil servant, teaching and NHS trade unions, and the local government trade unions.

Before the last general election union leaders like Unison’s Dave Prentis were stating that the whole of the public sector were united in defence of their retirement age at 60, and their final salary pensions.

He insisted that there was going to be the biggest strike since the 1926 general strike over the issue.

Then Blair and Prescott offered to recommence talks after the general election and the union leaders rolled over onto their backs like tabby cats, and let Labour off the hook.

What happened then is history. After the election they accepted a deal that left the local government workers on their own, and accepted a two tier workforce in the NHS, civil service and education.

They agreed that all new starters would work till they were 65 for a worse pension. They agreed to split with local government, and then further split the rest, giving Blair and Prescott the opportunity to divide and rule.

Now, of course the government has told local government you work till you are 65, and you will have a new local government pension scheme.

The same leaders who were making big talk before last March about the biggest strike since 1926 are now saying that ‘they rule nothing in or nothing out’.

The millions of public sector workers must call them to order. They must be told to call the whole public sector out to defend their pensions and retirement ages.

There has got to be an even bigger strike than 1926 and this time it has to be won, by bringing the Blair government down and going forward to a workers government that will carry out socialist policies.