Socialist Worker

Trade unionists tell TUC: We won't give up on pensions battle

by Anindya Bhattacharyya
Issue No. 2283

Trade unionists lobby the TUC today  (Pic: Smallman )

Trade unionists lobby the TUC today (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Some 200 trade unionists and campaigners gathered in the rain outside the TUC's headquarters in central London this afternoon (Monday).

They were lobbying the TUC against attempts to sell out the pensions dispute that saw 2.6 million public sector workers walk out on strike on 30 November.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, was received with cheers as he arrived at the TUC for talks with other public sector union leaders.

'We won't be signing up to the deal,' he said on the steps of the TUC. 'If the government won't negotiate, we should call further industrial action in the new year.'

Earlier that afternoon Kingsley Abrams from Unite's national executive addressed the lobby outside the TUC.

'We hope no one is signing any deals in there on behalf of Unite that don't have the backing of our members,' he said.

John McLoughlin, branch secretary of Tower Hamlets Unison, is on Unison's service group executive for local government workers.

He told the lobby that he opposed the government's latest offer. 'We have to go to every branch to win the fight to stop the sell-out. I believe that's a fight we can win.'

Kevin Evans from PCS's London Defra branch was at the lobby. He told Socialist Worker, 'We got over two million workers out on 30 November. It would be incredible to lose that momentum within the space of a month.'

The different messages from union leaders today reflect tensions building up at the top of the trade union movement.

The PCS and NUT unions are holding firm against efforts to make workers pay more, work longer and receive less in their pensions. Other unions such as the UCU are for now also holding out.

But the picture is different in Unison, the largest union organising health workers and local government workers, and in the Unite and GMB unions.

Unison announced today that it would take the government's 'final offer' back to its health service group executive, although it stopped short of recommending the offer.

The offer is awful. All it does is to delay a proposed rise in contributions by a couple of years for some lower-paid workers.

After the powerful unity of 30 November, the government is trying to 'divide and rule' the unions by offering different deals over different pension schemes to different union leaders.

But the battle is not over yet.

Union leaders cannot call off this dispute just on their say-so. Executive committees will be meeting in early January.

The media fanfare that has accompanied today's developments is designed to present the sell-out as a 'done deal'.

Union leaders hope this will demoralise those who want to fight on, allowing officials to ram the deal through.

But executive members also face pressure from below. A sustained rank-and-file campaign to reject the deal can persuade them to hold firm.

Workers got a taste for united and militant action on 30 November. Activists now need to transform that feeling into a force that can see off any shoddy deals and stop the Tory austerity plans in their tracks.

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