Barely a fortnight after the biggest industrial action in a generation the General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, and his Unison equivalent, Dave Prentis, are teetering on the edge of capitulation. Unite Rep Bryan Simpson argues that more resistance, not sell-outs, is what Trade Union leaders should be organising.
When the Public Sector Liaison Group of the TUC met on Friday for the first time since the magnificent strike on November 30th, it was expected that they would again reject the Governments measly attempt to ‘reform’ their public sector pension package.
However in an incredible act of betrayal to the 2.8 million members who took part in strike action last month, Brendan Barber has provisionally agreed to accept Francis Maude’s ‘heads of agreement’, which would effectively end the dispute before Christmas. Understandably many General Secretaries including Mark Serwotka have made clear their anger at what the vast majority of members will see as a sell-out on pensions. Yet despite 1.1 million Unison members making up the largest voice on the picket lines 3 weeks ago, Dave Prentis is, thus far, the only General Secretary to have said he will support this. The Union’s have been given until 10am Monday to accept.
The deal on the table has barely changed since it was first proposed by Francis Maude back in January. It will still see all public sector workers paying more into a pension pot from which they will get less and not receive until they are at least 67. According to the proposed NHS pension scheme nurses on an annual salary of £21,176 will be expected to contribute 8% of their salary into a pot while the government contributes less. That is an increase of £318. This will increase year on year until 2014/15.
For younger workers the proposals are even more despicable. A Nurse who is 23 will be expected to work for 45 years (an increase of 8 years) for a pension of £14,798. That is a reduction of £11,558 on the previous scheme. A 44% cut for someone already riddled with debt from University/College fees, who’s only option is to take out a 35 or 40 year mortgage with exuberant interest rates because they cannot afford the 20% deposit.
Francis Maude, on the other hand, will receive an annual pension of £43,825 from a pension pot of £731,000, despite contributing less (in percentage terms) of his £98,000 salary than the Nurse whose living standards he is slashing. If Osborne were to retire at the next election (at 44 years old) the multi-millionaire chancellor would receive an annual pension of £32,977; 223% of the aforementioned Nurse’s pension; for which she/he must work 24 years longer. These are the kind of hypocrisies our union leaders are mandated to highlight instead of pandering to a deal which is an insult to their members.
If a deal is struck now with Francis Maude, not only will it mean the premature end of the dispute before any serious concessions have been offered for public sector workers but it may threaten to undermine all that we have gained since June 30th. The only group set to gain from this deal are the Government who will have succeeded not only in stealing millions from some of the most undervalued workers but will have managed to cut-short a dispute which has the potential to spread.
November 30th may have been led by the leadership but only the rank and file of these trade unions can ensure that there is more action. Trade union bureaucrats can only sell-out their members interests if the members don’t stop them from doing so. It is the responsibility of militant trade unionists in branches up and down the country to agitate for further action. We should take our lead from grass roots members of Unison Scotland who are pushing for January 25th to be the next day of action.
2012 poses a number of challenges as well as opportunities for the organised trade union movement and the anti-austerity movement as a whole. The deepening of the economic crisis both here and in Europe will inevitably intensify the assault on our welfare state and our class. This ideological onslaught must be met with an equally ideological response which sees the cross fertilisation of struggles from the organised trade union movement, the student movement and the communities decimated by these cuts.
We must make sure our achievements thus far are not obliterated with the stroke of a pen round a negotiating table. The confidence of our class and the opportunity to tear down this weak government is at stake.
Join the lobby of TUC’s Congress House on Monday 19th December. Meeting at Russell Square Tube at 2pm.
Sign the petition against the pension sell-out: