Socialist Worker

Resist this neo-liberal assault on workers

by Yunus Bakhsh
Issue No. 1979

The Turner report into the future of the state pension system this week will call for the state pension age to rise to 67 and the money saved to be used to restore the link between earnings and pensions.

Key figures in New Labour are already lining up to attack the Turner proposals from the right.

Gordon Brown has signalled his opposition to restoring the link to earnings, which was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1980.

He also wants to use the report to pull back from a deal agreed last month between the government and union leaders over pensions for public sector workers.

That deal preserved a retirement age of 60 for existing workers, but raised it to 65 for future generations.

We should not be misled by these tactical manoeuvres by New Labour and business leaders.

And we must not fall into the trap of defending the Turner proposals as the best position on offer.

Raising the state pension age to 67 represents a neo-liberal assault on all of us.

It means making all of us work longer — an absolute increase in our exploitation. Far from accepting any rise in the retirement age, we should be fighting to lower it.

There has been a propaganda campaign from ministers and bosses over the past few months aimed at softening us up to the idea that decent state pensions are unaffordable.

But we already work the longest hours in western Europe — and we have the poorest pensioners.

This is the fourth richest country in the world, yet people living longer is somehow seen as a problem.

As for Brown’s attempt to renege on the public sector deal before the ink is dry — this should come as no surprise.

The entire thrust of New Labour’s public sector reforms has been to dismantle public services and roll back workers’ rights.

The government has reneged on deals before. It went back on its deal with the firefighters two years ago.

It is bound to try and use Turner to remove the right of public sector workers to retire on a full pension at 60.

All this highlights the fact that trade union leaders should not have accepted the public sector pensions deal in the first place.

It was thoroughly naive to think that the government would leave existing workers alone once unions had conceded the principle of raising the retirement age for future generations.

The concessions that the government made were brought about by the threat of united industrial action across the public sector.

But accepting the deal — which excluded local government workers — weakened the united power that had won the concessions in the first place.

The government’s plans over all our pensions can be stopped. And we can also roll them back.

We must defend existing pensions arrangements, argue about extending them to new workers, and fight back for a decent future for all of us.

Yunus Bakhsh is a leading activist in Unison and a member of the union’s health service executive. He writes here in a personal capacity.


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Sat 3 Dec 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1979
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