Around 1,000 local government workers lobbied parliament yesterday to demand a decent local government pension scheme.
This is the biggest single scheme in Britain, covering one in ten of the national workforce, nearly two million workers.
The government shows no sign of listening to the call for justice.
Having abolished the “rule of 85” for present staff – which meant workers could retire at 60 if they had 25 years service – the government is now about to unveil proposals for a “new look” scheme for present and future staff.
The local government employers are trying to cap the amounts they pay into the scheme, but demanding that workers pay more! These are the same employers who for many years in the 1990s enjoyed pensions holidays.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, told lobbyists, “I guarantee that if we are offered a worse system with higher contributions then we will be balloting members not for acceptance of the scheme but for industrial action.”
He emphasised that the action would be directed towards influencing the run-up to the elections in May 2007 when 33 million people across Britain will have the chance to take part in the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly and English local elections.
Heather Wakefield, head of local government for Unison, said, “It’s Gordon Brown who holds the purse strings. The whole policy has its roots in the Treasury and the desire to cut public expenditure.”
The vast bulk of workers in local government are low paid women. Many, especially part-time workers, are not in the scheme because they cannot afford to be, but the changes proposed will only add to this problem.
All these attacks are continuing because the unions did not follow up the success of the 28 March strike with further action. Instead they relied on the goodwill of the government – which has taken weakness as an excuse to rampage further through pension provision.
There have not even been serious negotiations.
Within a week the government will bring forward detailed proposals. There must then be 12 weeks of formal consultation, and the government says it will put the changes before parliament by 10 March 2007 so they can be implemented from 1 April 2008.
Unison and the other 11 unions involved in the campaign to defend pensions (T&G, GMB, Amicus, Ucatt, NUT, NUJ, NAPO, Nipsa, Aspect, AEP and CYWU) must therefore call a strike ballot early next year if they are to halt the attacks.
It can be won, but a different strategy is needed from the one followed so far. There needs to be hard-hitting action involving the whole workforce – a repeat of 28 March on a sustained level.
One of the best aspects of yesterday was the meeting called by Kirklees Unison branch around its successful demand for a special conference to discuss pensions. Around 150 of the lobbyists came to the meeting, and there was a vibrant sense of the readiness to resist.