The revolt over government plans to change public sector pensions has begun in earnest.
The government has made no secret of the fact that it is launching an attack on public sector workers. In fact, it seems rather proud of it - as if this is some sort of selling point. There are two key changes that they want to make - they want to make us work longer and for less by increasing the retirement age and changing pension levels on average salary through out the career rather than the salary on which the the worker retires. The final salary issue is not some obscure and irrelevant sticking point, this could be a significant loss of pension, for a large number of people. Unison estimates that some of their members could lose up to 30% of their pension - this disgusting attack on public sector workers must be stopped at all costs
The Government should be increasing spending on pensions, not reducing it!
Friday 18th February saw rallies and demonstrations right across the country against these plans.
For example there were two rallies in Leeds, one of 50 and another of 200 (splitters!), more than two hundred attended the Cambridge TUC rally and demonstration (pictured) with a further 80 attending meetings at Addenbrookes hospital, 120 in Liverpool, 150 in Plymouth, 70 in Brighton, 200 in Bolton, 150 in Norwich, 100 in York, 200 in Southend (including three fire engines!), 100 in Islington, hundreds attended the four demonstrations that took place in Manchester, hundreds attended the two rallies in Newham and many others. Camden trade unionists boarded a pensions battle bus and toured the area - with one key banner proclaiming "strike now to protect our pensions"
These protests included fire fighters, health workers, civil servants, teachers and many others and received a good deal of local, if not national, press coverage. The thousands of workers who took part show that the protests are not just a paper exercise by the union bureaucracy nor a talked up flash in the pan from the far left - the government is taking on literally millions of workers, and the resistance has begun. For weekday protests these were extremely significant and are coupled with the possibilities of strike action of over a million workers in the air.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “This issue is not going to go away. Unions and their members are very angry at the changes the Government is proposing. There is enormous concern at the impact these proposals will have upon the lives of millions of public sector workers. We are determined to keep up the pressure on the Government.” The TUC has called on workers to reject a "work til you drop culture". UK workers already work longer hours than their counter parts in Europe, we should be moving towards their model - not back to Victorian times.
This can be seen as a continued left shift in the unions, which include the recent election of Christine Blower as deputy general secretary of the NUT and Matt Wrack's election as the assistant general secretary of the FBU. But we must still beware of betrayals from the union leadership and manoeuvring from New Labour ministers.