Over 6,000 British Gas engineers struck a blow for everyone’s pension rights when they walked out across Britain on Monday of this week.
It was the first of a series of one-day strikes by the members of the GMB union over not only their own pensions but, crucially, to protect the rights of future employees at the highly profitable company.
The action forced bosses to offer talks at the Acas arbitration service, but a further strike was planned for next Monday.
Dan Vaz, one of 20 pickets outside the British Gas/Centrica offices in Leicester, said, “We are taking strike action to save our pensions. No one will want to work for the company with no pension.”
His colleague Mick Brooks added that “approximately two years ago management wanted to shut down the final salary pension scheme to new members.
“We voted to increase our contributions by 25 percent to keep the scheme open, but now management wants to go back on the deal.”
“The workers were really pleased with the support they received from passers-by and the show of solidarity from two postal workers and a nurse,” reports Simon Furze from Leicester.
There was the same buoyant atmosphere at pickets and rallies across Britain. GMB regional organiser Paul Campbell said at a rally in Windsor, Berkshire, “This is a very relevant issue at the moment with pension schemes under attack across the public and private sectors.
“The company wants to close the final salary pension scheme to new starters which effectively means that eventually it wants to kill the scheme off.
“There is no evidence, as far as we can ascertain, that the scheme is in any trouble financially. Centrica makes massive profits.”
And London regional secretary Ed Blisset told pickets, “This isn’t a strike for ourselves, it is for our sons and daughters.
“We know if Centrica thinks it can get away with closing the current scheme to future generations that it will come back and attack your pensions too. With your support and solidarity, we can win this dispute.”
Chris Bennett, a senior steward on the protest in Uddingston near Glasgow, said that the strikes had been solid across Scotland.
He told Socialist Worker that he “is very proud of the GMB members fighting for the next generation of workers.
“After all years ago someone did this for us.
“The government talks all the time about how we should all make provisions for old age, but meanwhile the big companies are attacking our pensions and closing pension schemes.”
Monday saw the kind of solid action that is needed across the public and private sectors to defend and begin to extend pension rights.
By understanding that the future of current employees is bound up with what happens to new starters, the British Gas/Centrica engineers have set an example for the whole union movement.
From reports by Esme Choonara, Simon Furze, Viv Smith and Kevin Ovenden. Thanks to everyone who sent reports and pictures.