by a unison member
Build unity; reach out to other sections of the working class; organise hard-hitting action — and local government workers can win the huge battle over pensions due to open on 28 March.
The local government unions announced on 15 March that they have ballot majorities of around 80% to strike. They want to defeat the Government’s plans to abolish the “Rule of 85” which allows local government workers to retire on a full pension at 60 if they have 25 years’ service.
The unions are moving into action — late in the day, but they are moving. One worker due to strike on 28 March reports: “I’ve worked in the same place for 12 years, and this is the first strike we’ve had in all that time. For thousands of workers, this will be their first strike and their first picket line. Even for those who have been on strike before, this will probably be the first time that they have struck alongside so many other unions and groups of workers... It doesn’t feel like a ‘protest day’ that we’re building for the 28th”.
The unions plan to follow up 28 March with week or two-week strikes by selected groups of workers, supported by a levy on all union members to cover strike pay. If union branches can campaign and organise effectively among key groups, in a position to hit councils’ revenues and finances, then such action can point to victory.
It is due to be complemented by further “all-out” actions, for a day or two days, in May.
The local government unions start at a disadvantage because the other public sector unions – and indeed the major local government union, Unison, itself, via its health sector — agreed in October 2005 to a framework deal which got a promise of pension protection for existing workers but left new workers with worse pensions (their full-pension age raised from 60 to 65) and local government workers to fight alone.
Now there is a chance to start reversing that process of division.
The unions have already called on members to build regional joint union committees. It will be down to rank and file activists to make those committees as broad, as strong, and as accountable as possible.
The unions should declare that their fight is not just one to keep special conditions for a special group of workers, but one for the whole working class — for the right to a life after work for all workers!
They should campaign for the right to retire at 60 on a full pension for all workers (not just those who satisfy the "Rule of 85") and for increasing the basic state pension (the National Pensioners' Convention reckons it needs £52.50 per week rise to bring it to the same relative value as in 1979), indexing it to average earnings, and making it available to all, without means-testing, at 60. They should demand that improved pensions be paid for by taxing the rich and capital. By doing that, they can draw millions into demonstrations and rallies alongside them.
Unions should also demand of all Labour council candidates that they come out openly in support of the unions' demands. They should insist also that union-sponsored Labour MPs use Parliament to obstruct and oppose the "regulations" with which the Government will have to push through its pension cuts. To date, however, while Unison has "briefed" its sponsored MPs on the local government pensions issue, it has not so much as written them a letter asking them to take bold action on it, or to vote against Blair on the hideous Education Bill.