A national strike ballot over pensions is on, and it’s up to everyone to get the biggest possible yes vote for action.
Up to 1.5 million workers in the local government pension scheme could be striking in a month’s time.
This is a crucial battle which will have an impact not just on local government workers but the whole working class. New Labour is trying to isolate workers in the local government pension scheme, defeat them and then steamroller the pensions of everyone else.
If you want to stop the pension age rising to 67 or more, if you want justice for today’s pensioners, if you want to defend final salary schemes in the private sector – then get behind the local government workers.
We need an energetic and imaginative campaign with leaflets, e-mails and stalls, but also stunts and events that spread the message to our own union members and the general public.
Interviews in local papers, TV and radio stations can all help raise the profile of the campaign.
Six unions are already voting and the biggest section of workers is in Unison, which is balloting 829,000 members.
But even the biggest union needs to work with others in the same situation. We’ll be looking for unity among all those who are under attack.
Both the government and the employers’ organisation in England and Wales – which is led by Tories – have been pumping out propaganda against us.
We need to hit back and let everyone know that the majority of those in the local government scheme are low paid women.
It’s not about “well heeled bureaucrats and gold plated pensions”. It’s about the meagre pensions that are earned by hard working staff delivering vital services we all rely on.
Let’s get the vote out and then fight hard to stop any worsening of the pension scheme for the present workforce and for future workers as well.
There’s a danger that some in the union leadership may be ready to give up a final salary scheme in favour of some worse alternative. We should reject that and defend what we have.
A victory in local government would be a big blow against New Labour’s attacks.
Campaign hits the ground running
Bruce George, Unison housing convenor at Hammersmith & Fulham council in west London, spoke to Socialist Worker about fighting for a yes vote in the pensions strike ballot
There are four sections in the housing department here at Hammersmith & Fulham council, and we are going all out to win the ballot. There have been big meetings for members in each section.
Recently we had a meeting of 50 people in the housing benefit section. It’s a young workforce and at first some raised doubts about whether the pensions issue would affect them. But by explaining the importance of the attacks, we won nearly everyone over.
We’ve discussed the pensions ballot in the same union meeting where we’ve elected stewards or, in one section, where we’ve been discussing threatened office closures.
I think we will win the ballot by a substantial margin – and then we need an effective campaign of industrial action.
Our branch has sent a motion to the Unison national conference backing strikes to defend pensions and asking why we continue to fund the Labour Party when it is attacking us over this absolutely fundamental issue.
Facts and figures
- Some 73 percent of local government pension scheme (LGPS) members are women and nearly 60 percent of them work part time.
Women’s average LGPS pension is just £31 a week and 75 percent of all LGPS pensions are under £96 a week.
- Local government pension scheme members in Unison, Amicus, T&G, Nipsa and Napo began voting this week. Ucatt members will start their voting next week.
A GMB spokesperson told Socialist Worker that a decision would be made this week over whether to hold a national ballot of its members (as previously announced) following some consultative ballots.
- If the votes are for action, up to 1.5 million workers could strike on 28 March.
- The central issue is the abolition of the “rule of 85”, which allows some local government workers to retire at 60 with an unreduced pension if they have done 25 years service.
The abolition of this rule will mean everyone working until they are 65, or retiring at 60 with their pensions reduced by a third.
- The government has been consulting on these changes. The consultation ends on 28 February.
- Half of the people eligible to join the LGPS work in just 12 occupations. Classroom assistants are the most numerous.
Others in this top dozen include care assistants, home carers and nursery nurses.
The great majority of these employees provide vital services directly to members of the public.
Pensions, profits and resistance
This new Socialist Worker pamphlet by Charlie Kimber is vital reading for all trade unionists and pensions activists
Available for £1 from your Socialist Worker seller. Also available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop.
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