By a PCS member
Research published by J P Morgan Fleming in May 2004 revealed that nearly two-thirds of the UK's top pension funds have closed their final salary pension schemes to new members. According to the TUC these closures have already saved employers £4 billion in contributions.
In one of the most recent developments, RMT members working for Network Rail have voted to strike over the closure of their final salary pension scheme to new staff. Quite obviously, once a company has succeeded in dividing workers in this way there is every temptation on greedy bosses to attack the relatively "privileged" existing scheme members - worsening the accrual rate, increasing the retirement age and so on. And there have been a large number of strikes in many companies over this issue.
On 4 June the consultants Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow released research which showed that the average 25 year old joining the less generous defined contribution pension schemes that have been replacing final salary schemes would probably have to remain in employment until the age of 72 to retire on two-thirds of final salary. For those being locked out of decent pension schemes now and way past 25, poverty in retirement is looming large.
In December 2002 the Government announced its intention to raise the age at which civil service workers can receive their occupational pension, without a reduction in pension, from 60 to 65. This attack was underpinned by an implicit threat to wind up the civil service final salary pension schemes. The intention is to financially blackjack people into working longer on the grounds that workers are living too long and are proving too costly. Work until you are compost seems to be New Labour's slogan.
With the Government presiding over an ever continuing decline in the relative value of the state pension (by 2020 it will be worth just 10% of average earnings according to the TUC), enforced working or extreme poverty in old age will be the future for most unless the unions launch a serious fightback.
The 2003 annual delegate conference of PCS (the biggest civil service union) voted to link a campaign against the pension age increase and other detrimental pension proposals to the campaign fight for a decent state pension and to the pension struggles of other unions. PCS also voted to ballot members for industrial action If necessary - and it will be.
Since then PCS has been at the centre of the bid to persuade the TUC to call a national march and rally over pensions. This will now take place on 19 June. This demonstration should be the springboard for transforming the many isolated sectional battles over pension rights into a labour movement wide battle for the right of workers to retire at an age and on an income which will enable them to enjoy life.
The incoming PCS National Executive - with a clear left-wing majority and senior left wing officials - should now step up the pressure within the trade union movement for a much higher level of cross union campaigning and co-ordinated action.