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Fighting for Decent Pensions

 

By Alec Thraves, socialistparty.org

 

September 10, 2008

 

United Kingdom

 

The pensions workshop at this summer's National Shop Stewards Network conference was very informative and an issue of key importance to all workers. Ultimately most of us are going to be old age pensioners!


The themes of the discussion concentrated on the attacks on occupational pension schemes in both the public and private sector and the abysmally low state pension. 


What was abundantly clear from all the contributors was that the only way to retain and improve pensions is to organise united militant action through trade unions and pensioners' organisations.


Chair of the meeting, RMT member Andy Littlechild, showed the benefits of militant trade unionism. 


When Metronet went into administration it resulted in a 10% devaluation of the workers' pension scheme. But a ballot for strike action quickly turned this situation around with Transport for London (TfL) also now opening up the pension scheme to new members as well as other TfL employees!


Rob Williams, Unite (T&G) convener at Swansea's Visteon plant confirmed that a fighting union is the only way to defend pensions. His members have fought a three-year battle to defend terms and conditions and have been successful because the company knew that any reduced benefits or increased workers' contributions would have led to industrial action.


In the public sector, civil servants, local government workers and many others have seen their pension rights eroded, while full-time trade union leaders have failed dismally to organise a fight back. 


However, with a fighting leadership, in the PCS civil service union, a partial victory was won in defending civil servants' pensions. 


This was in contrast to the capitulation of the Unison leadership, which resulted in a big defeat for their members.


Neil Duncan-Jordon from the National Pensioners Convention graphically outlined the disgraceful poverty level of our state pension scheme.


One hundred years ago, after pressure from the trade union movement, the state pension scheme was introduced and marked the cornerstone of the future welfare state. However in the 21st century not only has it been undermined but 2.5 million pensioners live below the poverty line! 


The need for a united battle for decent pensions is overwhelming. The trade union movement's role is central in this struggle and the victories in defending pensions, such as those at Visteon and of the Grangemouth oil workers are key lessons for all trade unionists. 


The NSSN has been initiated to learn from those successes, to swap our experiences of how to defeat the employers and to bypass the obstacles of New Labour-loving trade union bureaucrats and to reform our organisations again into fighting trade unions. 


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