Yesterday six trade unions appeared at the Royal Courts of Justice to appeal against a High Court decision that the coalition government will slash the pensions of millions of public sector workers is lawful.
The case revolves around a legal challenge mounted by the main public sector unions – PCS, Unite, Unison, POA, FBU and NASUWT – to the change from the traditional Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) imposed by the coalition last year and due to come into effect when public sector pension increases take place in April.
The coalition’s preference for CPI as a more ‘appropriate’ method of calculating the rate of inflation, which determines pension increases, lies in the fact that CPI does not take into account increases in council tax, mortgage interest and house depreciation, as well as increases in car road tax and TV licenses amongst others.
The net effect of the switch will prove devastating for pensioners.
According to calculations made by the main public sector union, PCS, the change will cost every public sector pensioner about £15,000 over the average retirement span, with the government planning on making a saving of £6 billion a year.
Given that this switch to CPI has been applied almost universally by private sector schemes, it is estimated that £75 billion has been wiped off their value, money that has gone straight into the pockets of the employers.
This huge pension rip-off was legitimised in the high court last December when three judges, with one dissenting, ruled that the government was within its rights to take public finances into account when determining pension increases.
These judges actually threw out the argument by the government that the switch to CPI was because it was simply more appropriate, and agreed with the union submission that the change was simply aimed at reducing the national deficit.
In a statement, the leader of the PCS, Mark Serwotka, said: ‘As well as challenging in the court, we are continuing to mount the widest, most coordinated industrial action, we can force the government to think again and show how out of touch millionaire ministers are with the lives and concerns of the rest of us’.
The trade union movement has a right to defend its members’ pensions using every weapon available to them, including the use of the bourgeois legal system.
However, although Serwotka is correct in insisting that the fight cannot be confined to the legal process, the notion that industrial action can force a change of heart on this government is dangerous.
British capitalism is being smashed up on the rocks of the world economic crisis and in its desperate fight for survival it is forced to screw as much as possible out of the working class through cuts in pay, benefits, the destruction of the welfare state and through the pauperisation of pensioners, both in the public and private sector.
The billions ‘saved’ by cutting pensions will go straight into the coffers of the government and be used to bail out the banks as they hurtle into bankruptcy and collapse.
On November 30th last year over two million public sector workers came out on strike to defend their pension rights.
Since then every attempt, by the TUC and union leaders to reach some compromise with the government on this issue, has been rejected by their members and rebuffed by the government.
The time has come to reject all useless attempts to change the mind of this government.
It is time to mobilise the strength and determination that workers demonstrated on November 30 in an all-out indefinite general strike with the aim of bringing down this government and going forward to a workers’ government and socialism.