from UNISON United Left
Local Government workers across the UK have reacted with alarm and anger at the news that all further action in our pensions dispute has been suspended as of 13 April pending further talks with the Local Government Association to conclude in June.
This despite the fact that there is no concrete offer from the employers, merely an agreement to framework talks with “nothing ruled in and nothing ruled out”.
The success of the massive united national strike action on 28 March, and the threat of further regional and national strike action in the run up to May’s local elections has clearly put huge pressure on Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Council employers.
They have been forced to discuss how 50% of any savings from scrapping the “Rule of 85” (which currently allows Local Government Scheme members to retire at 60 with an unreduced pension if their age plus service is 85 or greater), and new commutation rules (by which people can trade a lower ongoing pension for a bigger lump sum on retirement), can be used to fund protection for existing scheme members and improvements to the pension scheme.
This does not even guarantee that existing Local Government Pension Scheme members will receive the same deal on lifetime protection offered to the rest of the public sector, still less protect future scheme members. UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, and UNISON’s national leadership had insisted that equal treatment for LGPS members was the absolute bottom line on pensions. But action has been suspended without securing this.
Talks are now scheduled to run on into June, taking us past the local elections. Members were already gearing up to build on the success of 28 March with the series of regional strikes and demonstrations from 25-27 April and there was real enthusiasm for the prospect of two days’ national action on 3 and 4 May. The best way to enter further negotiations is with the strength of further industrial action behind our negotiators, not with a suspension of action.
Suspending action now runs the risk of losing momentum. The government and employers may hope to sit out the elections and not come up with an acceptable offer. Our members may feel they have been marched to the top of the hill, only to be marched back down again.
In France workers and students forced a total retreat on reactionary labour laws by building and maintaining the momentum of their action and by refusing to suspend it when the government offered concessions.
UNISON’s leadership has stated that other unions had backed the suspension of action without consulting their members. If this is true, UNISON officials should have insisted on the principle of unity and – if necessary – have been prepared to call the bluff of any union saying it would withdraw from the campaign without consulting the members involved. We should certainly value trade union unity – but not at this potentially damaging price.
Above all it is wrong to suspend action without consulting the full membership. We must ensure that any offer that emerges is properly discussed by a recalled service group conference or other branch delegate based body and submitted to a ballot of all affected members.
What You Can Do Now
• Send Protests about the suspension of action to Unison HQ
• Demand Regular Updates on Negotiations
• Maintain Local Strike Committees
• Demand that any offer goes to a recalled Service Group Conference and a ballot of the affected members.
Ed Whitby (Newcastle Unison adds):
Do we not also have a position of opposing “protection deals”?
Are we not in favour of winning deals in pay and conditions (including pensions) which are for future workers as well as our existing members? The bulletin says: “it does not even offer protection for existing members”, but it is also important to say that our leadership should be fighting for the rights of all workers and future workers to retire at 60.
We should make this clear. We should say “no two-tier pension scheme”. If the employers come back and offer existing workers protection we should as a union reject this and fight for future workers.
I also think we should be mindful of the Government threats to the state pension. The Turner Commission’s final report called for raising the retirement age to 68 or 69. We should see our struggle as one against all these attacks.