Workers in the Unison and Unite unions have voted to accept a deal over their local government pension scheme (LGPS).
In Unite they voted to accept the changes by 84 percent. In Unison 90 percent voted to accept. Neither union has published the turnout. Both unions had recommended acceptance to their members.
The deal ties local government workers’ retirement age to the state pension age, currently 68 and likely to rise. The main concession the Tories made is that most workers’ pension contributions will not rise.
However working longer will mean that workers pay more—and the switch to a “career average” scheme will mean they get less at the end of it.
“The national leadership pushed hard for this result,” said David Hughes, who is on Unison’s local government executive, speaking in a personal capacity. “They put out lots of information saying how good the offer was. They even tried to ban branches campaigning for rejection.”
The deal was the result of negotiations after the one-day public sector strike on 30 November last year. But how did we get from there to today?
Over Christmas 2011 there was the rushed-through “heads of agreement”—an outline deal done by the union leadership over the heads of activists.
This set a framework for the negotiations where the unions could haggle over which elements of the scheme changed, but not about the overall “cost envelope”. These negotiations dragged out for months.
At Unison’s conference, left branches and activists attempted to win a position that the union should recommend rejection of the deal in its ballot.
The leadership clearly did not have the support to argue for acceptance. So instead it forced through a neutral position calling for “more consultation”—then pushed for acceptance in the more favourable environment of the executive committees.
Having done this, officials claimed that acceptance was now union policy—and spent large amounts of effort making threats against branches that defied it.
Many fought on to campaign for rejection. But as David Hughes says, union leaders “created a climate of acceptance”. In these conditions it is no wonder that most workers felt there wasn’t an alternative option of fighting on offer, and so voted to accept.