The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has announced that industrial action in the autumn over reforms to the firefighter pensions scheme now looks “increasingly likely”.
Consultation with members is ongoing and the union reports that it is making “preliminary arrangements” for a strike ballot. It would be the FBU’s first national dispute since the 2002/2003 pay campaign.
The union is opposed to government plans to increase employee contributions by 3.2%, and increase the pensionable age to 60. Statements from union leader Matt Wrack talk of “when”, rather than if, the FBU is going to ballot.
But when the FBU does ballot for action, will it have to do so alone?
Despite new government announcements which outline plans to make public sector workers contribute an extra £1.1 billion to their pensions from April 2012, there is little sign of increased combativity from the biggest unions. With Unison and the GMB, two of the biggest public sector unions, now engaged in scheme-by-scheme negotiations over their members’ pensions, the labour movement’s fightback on this issue risks slowing down to a crawl that will see unions more prepared to fight, such as the FBU, left isolated.
The FBU is necessarily restricted to scheme-specific negotiations as they only organise members in firefighter pension schemes. But Unison and GMB, which organise members across a range of different pension schemes (primarily the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and the NHS pension scheme), could throw a large spanner in the works of the government’s plans by demanding central, all-union negotiations to ensure that workers in one scheme are not used as bargaining chips against workers in another.
Activists in Unison and the GMB must demand that their leaders withdraw from scheme-by-scheme negotiations and negotiate centrally for across-the-board concessions from government.
The pensions reforms differ in detail in each scheme but the fundamental drive is the same: a ruling-class attack to make workers work longer for less reward.