The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 31st March 2006




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Lead

PENSION STRIKE SHAKES MINISTERS

by Daphne Liddle

“DO THEY
want us to die at work?” a striking worker said to a New Worker correspondent at a mass rally Manchester last Tuesday. The rally was one of dozens throughout Britain as over a million local government employees took one day’s strike action in protest at threats to their pensions and their retirement age.

 By Wednesday Government Ministers were holding urgent talks with trade union leaders to try to avert further strikes – several more are planned and local elections set for 4th May could be hit.

 Our paper’s Manchester correspondent reported that just about every local government building in Manchester – schools, colleges, libraries, leisure centres and so on – was closed and with a picket line outside.

 There was an impressive turnout of around 2,000 for the rally, with plenty of banners from the 11 unions involved in the biggest strike in Britain since the General Strike of 1926. Nationwide more than a million workers were on strike, 700,000 of the women.

 TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley said: “Three quarters of these workers are women and it is no accident that the Government has chosen not to protect their pensions in the way it agreed last year for the civil service, the NHS, teaching and others.

 “Tony Blair and his colleagues think low-paid women workers are a push-over. He’s got that wrong.”

 A high level of political awareness was evident among the strikers at the Manchester rally – “They’ve got money to invade Iraq but not for us,” was heard more than once.

 The strikers also firmly rejected ruling class efforts to divide private and public sector workers and to divide local government workers from other public sector workers, like nurses, teachers and firefighters.

  Many strikers recalled the same battle a year ago, after the first time the Government tried to attack local government pensions. Then, in the run-up to the general election, the Government had been quick to back down at the threat of a strike as big as last Tuesday’s and to reach an agreement.

 But the workers were not fooled; they knew the issue would come back again after the election.

The changes they are fighting include the abolition of the 85-years-rule, which allows workers to retire when their age plus their years of service add up to 85.

 In many towns throughout the country striking transport workers brought public transport systems to a halt. The Mersey Tunnel was closed, as was the Glasgow Underground railway system, Glasgow bus station also closed, the Newcastle Metro stopped, the Torpoint ferry in Devon was halted and the Isle of Wight virtually cut off as the ferry there stopped.

 Thousands of schools through Britain were closed and there were rallies in Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Plymouth, Leeds, Brighton, London and many other towns.

 GMB acting general secretary Paul Kenny said: “The Local Government Pension Scheme is under attack. The Government, the employers and the right wing press are determined to extract every last penny out of local government pensioners.

 “That’s for those who get to the stage where they receive their pitiful average £3,800 a year pension – £1,500 a year less than most private sector pension scheme members. The Government has for many years been trying to make workers work for longer. This hasn’t meant employers making any great efforts to improve employment practices to make continued working more attractive to older workers.

 “It has meant attacking one of the early retirement mechanisms local government has. Unlike the other public sector schemes, including the luxurious MPs’ scheme, workers in local government have to work for 25 years before they can take their pension unreduced at 60.

 “Now even that is under threat and the employers will still say local government workers ‘have never had it so good’.

 “Next they’ll be saying by making classroom assistants, refuse operatives and grave diggers work longer they’re doing them a favour!

 “Given it takes local government workers 10 years longer to earn the same pension as some of their other public sector colleagues maybe they’ve got a point!

  “This is why the GMB wants change – but on our terms.”

 Last Tuesday’s show of solidarity has shaken the Government and demonstrated the power and strength of working class unity.

 *************
Editorial

Force Blair out

TONY BLAIR is on another of his overseas jaunts, leaving his Cabinet to fend off questions about the “loans for titles” scandal and face the wrath of the million or so local authority workers who walked out on Wednesday.

But if he hoped to restore his rock-bottom prestige in Australia and New Zealand he was much mistaken. While nobody took any notice of yet another “keynote” Blair speech in defence of  imperialist aggression in Iraq, even Blair’s toadies will have noticed the alarm that spread, not least in the Gordon Brown camp, when the Prime Minister appeared to suggest that his pledge to stand down before the next election was a mistake.

 Though his aides hastened to assure the media that Blair was only referring to his public comment before the last election and that there was no intention of going back on his word, it has provoked more demands from the left of the Labour Party for a leadership challenge to hasten Blair’s departure.

Blair’s been a liability for Labour from the day he took the shameful decision to back the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The swing to the Liberal Democrats at the last election and their victory at the Dunfermline by-election last month was undoubtedly due to the Iraq factor. Few believe that Labour will fare any better at the forthcoming local elections if Blair remains at the helm.

The massive anti-war demonstration in London this March and the continuing opposition from those sections of the ruling class who want Britain to restore its ties with France and Germany within the European Union show that the Iraq war is not going to go away no matter how much Blair wants us to “move on”.

Memories of the bitter Thatcher and Major era linger on. No worker in their right minds wants to see another Tory government and Labour remains well ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls. Few are attracted to the protest politics of Respect or the other left social-democratic platforms that can never hope to form a government.  But an increasing number are likely to abstain or switch to the Lib-Dems in the future unless there is a radical change in the leadership of the Labour Party.

Turning logic on its head, the apologists for Blair claim that a leadership contest would be damaging for the Labour government, while the Brown camp press for an uncontested seamless handover in the name of unity.

A democratic leadership election under Labour rules can only boost the standing of the Labour Party in Parliament and throughout the country as the recent leadership contest in the Lib-Dems proved. The premiership is not Blair’s for as long as he chooses nor is it his gift for Brown when the day comes.

Millions of working people, the people who gave Labour the laurels in the past three general elections, want a Labour government that carries out the wishes of those who put them into office. They want a Labour government that heeds the counsel and advice of the trade union movement whose money keeps the Labour Party afloat. And they want a Labour leader who is willing to work with union leaders  – not one who scarcely talks to them and fears to show his face at labour movement events.

But no amount of hand-wringing or pious phrases is going to make Blair go any faster. The left in the Parliamentary Labour Party must campaign to get enough votes to force a contest and the best way to ensure that they do is to step up the pressure against the war and all the other anti-people policies pursued by the Blair clique.

Mass action on all fronts is needed to force Blair out. The council workers who walked out on Wednesday over pensions in the biggest action since the General Strike of 1926 have paved the way.

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