Rail workers in four unions are preparing to ballot for a strike in defence of their pensions. Any strike would involve 80,000 workers and bring Britain’s rail network to a halt.
Around 200 rail union reps and workers maet in London on Thursday of last week to discuss the issue. The meeting was one of a series organised by the unions around the country. One hundred people had met in Manchester the previous evening. The privatisation of the railways has fragmented the Railway Pensions Scheme (RPS).
The employers want to increase workers’ contributions. The unions are putting pressure on the government and the employers to meet their demands. If there is no agreement the unions plan to ballot workers for a campaign of strike action at the beginning of July.
Keith Norman, the general secretary of the Aslef union, said, “The unions have come together to save our pensions fund. There is a great risk to the members’ pensions.
“There are currently over 100 sections of the RPS. The vast majority are in deficit. The employers want workers to pay more to receive less. They want to cut benefits.
“This is not on. Pensions are deferred wages.We’re going to fight for your pensions and your future.”
Gerry Doherty, the general secretary of the TSSA union, said, “As far as trade unionists are concerned, pensions is the issue of the day.
“When the Tories privatised the rail industry there was £8 billion in the pension fund. Now there is £13.5 billion in the RPS. The sharks and privateers have their eyes on this pensions pot.
“When people are faced with the big rises in pensions contributions proposed by the employers they may walk away from their pensions. The people still in the fund will have to pick up even more of the cost. They will wither on the vine. We will not talk about worsening conditions. We want the schemes opened up to all employees and employee contributions capped at 10.56 percent.
“The schemes must also be streamlined to cut costs. We stand on the brink of being the first generation in 100 years to hand over worse social conditions to the generations to come. We need to take action now.”
Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT union, told the London meeting, “We will not have people working longer than 65. Anyone who works until 67 is robbing an 18 or 19 year old of a chance.
“People should be able to retire and do things that they couldn’t when they were working – that is about the betterment of society.
“I would love the employers to get round the table and solve it without industrial action but I don’t think that is going to happen. It will need five weeks to organise a ballot so that means balloting at the end of May.
“We have got three weeks to organise the rest of the workforce and convince the people not already convinced.”
In the short discussion workers spoke about the anger over this issue, the need for united action which will be more than one day and the possibility of a political alternative to New Labour. The other union involved in the campaign is CSEU/Amicus.
The unions are now planning to lobby MPs on Tuesday 9 May, assemble 1pm outside parliament, central London.