WE WILL FIGHT TO DEFEND PENSIONS – union leaders tell TUC Congress

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Delegates turned out for an anti-racist demonstration at the start of the Congress, condemning racist attacks and the far right BNP
Delegates turned out for an anti-racist demonstration at the start of the Congress, condemning racist attacks and the far right BNP

THE TUC delegates in Liverpool at the 2009 Congress on Monday voted unanimously to defend public services.

Composite Motion C21 Public Services and the Economy says ‘the conference resolves to oppose cuts in public services and pensions’.

It also resolves to ‘pursue a payback tax on profits above a certain level on financial institutions that have benefited from public money’.

The motion instructs the General Council to develop a new integrated campaign based on the protection of public services and an end to privatisation; public investment in high quality and fully-funded public services as a priority at the next general election.’

The campaign should also be based on ‘supporting affiliates in opposing wage cuts, rejecting any public sector pay freeze and protecting pensions’ and ‘demanding government action including nationalisation to protect and create jobs’.

The motion states ‘Congress further instructs the General Council to support, coordinate and encourage joint union action, including industrial action in pursuit of these objectives.’

Moving the motion, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘An attack on public services is an attack on us all, our families, our communities.

‘And I want to make it clear at the outset, that my Unison delegation here today will not allow our public service members to pay the price for bailing out the banks.’

He added: ‘Our members in schools, colleges, helping people re-skill, not lose hope, our members in the NHS, in mental health, making sure, unlike America, that everyone gets the care they need.

‘Congress, it’s our public services who’ll pull us through.

‘It’s our members who’ll rebuild our communities.’

He continued: ‘But what of the future, what do we get?’

He said that, as a result of the recession, ‘the spotlight rapidly turned from City excess into cutting our essential services.

‘So-called backroom services – expendable. To be sold-off, just like in Thatcher’s Britain, when cleaners were deemed to be “non-core’’. Their jobs halved, sold-off to the lowest bidder.

‘And what did we get – dirty hospitals, MRSA, C-difficile.

‘And make no mistake, in 2009 Unison will defend our cleaners, our dinner ladies, just as much as we will defend our nurses and social workers.’

He warned of ‘a Tory party egged on by the Taxpayers Alliance, calling for savage cuts – using the crisis to dismantle the state.’

He added: ‘And it’s not just about a Labour government warning us that the Tories will cut spending.

‘We know that – it’s about Labour convincing us it will not do the same.’

He added: ‘Congress, our members will not pay for the greed of others.

‘We will not take lectures from discredited City bankers, nor from politicians.

‘We will work with all public service unions to fight job cuts, to save our National Health Service, to defend our public services, to bring fairness back into our society. A united plan of action.’

He concluded: ‘Make the banks honour their obligation to our society.

‘Stop obscene bonuses.

‘Stop the excess and make them honour their debts.

‘Make them pay, and not our public services.’

Seconding the motion, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, warned: ‘After the general election, we are going to see an unprecedented onslaught on public services.

‘There’s a political consensus with all three major parties.

‘It’s a pro-privatisation agenda.

‘The Tories will make cuts, but so will Labour.

‘Mandelson said on the radio this morning there will be more cuts.’

He added: ‘Our alternative is not to cut spending but to collect tax.

‘Make the rich pay their share.

‘These are the scroungers, these are the spongers. They should pay, not our members.’

He pledged: ‘We will take industrial action as well as campaigning action to defend schools and hospitals.

‘We pledged to act in 2005 and we won a deal on pensions.

‘Last year we did not take action and we paid the price.

‘We have to fight any cuts.’

Also supporting the motion, Chris Keats, NASUWT general secretary, said: ‘The government is syphoning off millions of pounds of public money into consultants, private providers.’

She added: ‘Public service workers don’t walk away because the contract is not profitable.

‘Public services are about people, not profit.’

She said: ‘We can, and must, make a stand to defend the future of public services.’

Jane Loftus, CWU president, also supporting the motion, said: ‘Royal Mail is part of the public services.

‘We fought privatisation under the Tories. We now have to continue under New Labour.

‘It’s a disgrace the government gave up on our pensions and said “we won’t deal with it’’.

‘We want to see postal services properly run.

‘The so-called Spanish practices are hard-earned union agreements and we will defend them.

‘We should defend public services and expand them.

‘Unite and fight and victory to the postal workers,’ she concluded.

Earlier, in the pensions debate, Roy Rickhuss, of the Community union, successfully moved Motion 25: Attacks on Terms and Conditions.

The motion stated: ‘Congress condemns those employers that have seized the recession as an opportunity to attack workers’ terms and conditions with no guarantees of job security in return, and condemns those employers that are merely trying to maximise profits while crying poor.

‘In particular, Congress notes with concern the recession being used as an excuse by employers to further the demise of final salary pension schemes.’

Rickhuss told delegates: ‘All unions have had to engage with employers in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the downturn.

‘But the worst kind of employers have been taking advantage of the situation to attack working people’s terms and conditions.

‘Our members in betting shops have all seen their terms reduced – overtime rates and premium pay have been ended.

‘Workers were given new contracts and the choice to accept or face dismissal.

‘Community is currently pursuing legal action on behalf of our members.’

He added: ‘This disgraceful behaviour is made worse by the fact that these betting companies have continued to rake in the profits, despite the recession.’

He went on to say: ‘And it’s not just the betting industry that’s taken advantage of the recession.

‘It’s been a difficult year for the steel industry too.

‘As a union, we’ve shouldered our responsibility and tried to work with employers to ensure we get through this current recession.

‘With some companies it’s worked, but with others, they weren’t prepared to meet their responsibilities to their employees.

‘Corus are pressing ahead with their plans to close the British Steel pension scheme to new entrants.

‘But we know the real plan is to close it altogether.

‘Just as Tata, who now own Corus, did at Tetley Tea when they acquired that business a few years ago.

‘Corus revealed their pension plans the same day as they announced thousands of redundancies.’

He added: ‘You can’t get a more cynical example of taking advantage of difficult times than that – trying to make a fundamental change to a pension scheme that has given security in retirement for generations of steelworkers by hoping people will be too worried about their job to notice or do anything about it.

‘Well I’ve got news for Corus, our members have noticed. We are going to do something about it.

‘We could be heading for the first national steel strike for 30 years.’

He concluded: ‘We will not let cynical and devious companies like Corus and Ladbrokes take advantage of the recession.

‘We will not let these companies chip away at the pay in our members’ pockets or the pensions that protect them in retirement.’

The motion included an amendment by Unite singling out Diageo over the announcement that it is to close its plants in Scotland with the loss of 900 jobs.

Unite speaker Len McCluskey declared: ‘Organised labour needs to counter that arrogance.

‘We need them to understand we mean what we say: attack our communities, we’ll attack you.’

Congress also passed Composite Motion 10: defending quality pensions.

The motion was moved by Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, and supported by the PCS and FBU, who both warned that they will fight to defend final salary pensions.

Kenny said: ‘Prime Minister: trade unions have a good record of getting it right, on City bonuses, private equity and unregulated markets.

‘Listen to us. We are right again on pensions.’

Hugh Lanning, of the PCS, said: ‘It was the readiness to take action that made the difference in 2005.

‘We need to do that again if necessary. Low pay means poor pensions.

‘If pensions go, it will be difficult to get them back.

‘Let’s mobilise to take industrial action if necessary.’

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘The government has bailed out the banks. Where’s the bail-out for our pensioners?

‘Whichever is the government, we will fight to defend pensions,’ he added.