Momentum builds for pensions strike

TUCThe result of the biggest-ever strike ballot carried out by a union in the UK will be known on 3 November. Millions of workers are to be balloted to strike on November 30 on what is shaping up to be the biggest day of industrial action since the 1926 General Strike. The country's biggest union Unison, which represents public sector workers, is balloting its entire one million-plus membership for the first time, with 9,500 employers affected.
November 30 has been named by the TUC as a day of action for pensions justice. The action follows a successful joint strike staged by teaching unions and the public service union PCS on 30 June. This time they are set to be joined by the three biggest unions, Unison, Unite and the GMB, plus firefighters and senior civil servants among others.

The day could see three million workers on strike. Unions have said they will keep vital pubic services running during what TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has said will be "the biggest union mobilisation for a generation". The dispute is ostensibly about changes to pension provision, but there are wider issues involved too.

Gold-plated pensions

No doubt between now and 3 November there will be an increase in attacks on so-called 'gold-plated pensions' enjoyed by public sector workers. But that argument is beginning to wear thin as millions of people wake up to the reality that we are not 'all in his together' and that only the banks and the tax dodgers have anything gold-plated.

The unions have also broadened the remit of their campaign, calling not just for a defence of their own members' pensions, but for Fair Pensions for All. That call makes a connection with the millions who have seen the value of their pensions undermined as the move from guaranteed pensions to pensions based on stock-market risk has been forced through by successive governments.

The argument that pensions are deferred wages which should be invested, rather than an asset which can be traded up or down in the casino economy, is being heard again. And people are realising that defending what is good rather than arguing for a reduction to the lowest common denominator may be more productive. The ballots look likely to return a resounding yes vote for action.

Banks bailed out

With banks being repeatedly bailed out with our money, tax-avoiding corporations let off the hook and the ideological nature of the Coalition's attempt to reshape pubic services becoming increasingly clear, the attempts to paint public sector workers as greedy and cosseted are starting to sound hollow.

And, as a group of leading economists has pointed out, the cost of providing tax relief to the 1% of the population earning more than £150,000 is more than twice as much as the supposedly unaffordable £4bn public sector pensions bill, and five times as much as providing tax relief to all higher rate taxpayers.

When head teachers and senior civil servants ballot to strike, and are opposed by an anti-public service government whose message is amplified in media channels owned by tax-dodgers, it's really not that hard to decide who is in the right.
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