Build the resistance

by Daphne Liddle

STUDENT leaders are going to organise a mass demonstration in London to coincide with the planned national strike of public sector unions in defence of their pensions on 30th November.

And this strike is set to be the biggest joint union action since 1926, involving several million workers.

Talks began on Wednesday between the unions and the Con-Dem Coalition, theoretically to negotiate a deal that will make the strike unnecessary. But no one really expects the Cameron government to back down.

Cameron’s own advisor of pensions policy, former Labour Cabinet Minister John Hutton, was forced to admit that he was wrong to say the unions had misunderstood his findings. He had claimed in the Financial Times that the latest proposals for public servants to pay more and work longer had been built into his report, which is being used by ministers as evidence of the need for further cuts.

A table in his so-called independent report on public sector pensions showed the future cost of public sector pension schemes, as a share of national income, falling from a peak of 1.9 per cent this year to 1.4 per cent by 2060.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka responded with a letter accusing Hutton of misleading people — those figures referred to costs involved in the existing public sector pensions agreement, not those after Coalition cuts, and showed the existing scheme is completely affordable.

Cutting pensions further will discourage employees from joining the pensions schemes meaning they will have to depend on means- tested top ups on their pensions at greater cost to the Government.

Having lost the argument over affordability, the Government shifted the goalposts when Pensions Minister Steve Webb said that the reforms were not about affordability, but “fairness”.

Mark Serwotka said: “The Government’s concept of fairness appears to mean bringing everyone down, so that workers in both public and private sectors are left with poverty pensions.

“What we want is fair pensions for all, and that is why we are now making plans for the biggest public sector strike in this country for decades.”

Unison and Unite, two giant unions representing millions of health workers, plus other health unions, issued a joint press release on how the pay freeze and pension cuts are affecting NHS workers.

They said: “A toxic combination of increasing demand, shrinking resources and the pay freeze, are putting staff under severe pressure. The impact of the proposed pension changes and the massive programme of NHS reforms in the Health and Social Care Bill, are adding even more to the stress felt by staff.”

Meanwhile teaching unions have come together to organise a mass lobby of Parliament on 26th October to defend their pensions.

Up to 25,000 teachers and lecturers will gather at Parliament on Wednesday 26th October in a mass lobby to protest against ruthless pension cuts in the education sector.

The unprecedented action is part of a joint campaign by seven leading education unions to draw attention to the myths surrounding the debate on pensions and to the severity of the cuts being proposed.

The campaign, Decent Pensions: Securing the Future for All, aims to have a representative at the lobby from every school in the maintained, academy and independent sectors in England and Wales as well as from colleges and post-92 universities (approximately 25,000 in total), and many institutions are expected to send groups of staff to swell numbers even further.

But the seven unions have not ruled out further industrial action if the Government continues to erode pensions.

Organisers of the campaign said: “The public has a right to know that cuts could ultimately affect the quality of education for young people as high calibre graduates re-think their career choice. We will also be challenging the myths about how public sector pensions impact on taxpayers.”

Pressure is building on this Government but it is unlikely to back down. If it does not listen to the millions of workers who are planning to lobby, march and strike against its cuts, especially to pensions, then those workers must organise a step further to bring it down.

It is already weakened by demoralisation and confusion among its Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

The workers and their unions really can win this battle — they must believe in their own strength.