Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Working Class Alternative to Public Service Pension Cuts

Union bosses defend their own interests, not those of workers
This afternoon, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander announced an outline agreement with unions for huge cuts in public service pensions. His statement followed yesterday's declaration by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber that "we have seen a new atmosphere in the negotiation". But this "new atmosphere" was not the result of the government finally seeing the light and backing away from its attack on the living standards of millions. On the contrary, it was due to union bureaucrats dropping their phoney opposition, and settling down to their task of presenting utter defeat as victory.

All this was made clear by Alexander's confirmation that public workers must still "work a bit longer and pay a little more". In truth, little has changed from the government's original proposals, which were published before two big days of strike action demonstrated the potential strength of a united working class.

Cynically, Alexander presented the new deal as better for women and the lowest paid public workers, no doubt hoping to drive a wedge between staff of different genders and pay grades - just as the government have consistently attempted between public and private employees. Nonetheless, if they materialise, the tiny concessions wrung from the government are testament to the ruling class fear of a wider working class mobilisation - a result of the widespread support for strikes shown by the general public.

But under the agreement, public workers will still face the "triple squeeze" bemoaned on a TUC website. The switch from a higher to a lower measure of pensions will still reduce their value by around 15%, according to Lord Hutton's Pensions Commission. Contributions will still increase by an amount equivalent to a 3% pay cut - at a time when actual 'pay rises' will be limited to a few percent below increases in the cost of living. Finally, workers will still be forced to work a few years more before they receive the devalued pension.

So much for the ruling class "final position". Though PCS boss Mark Serwotka and others are currently holding out for his own tactical reasons, he too will eventually accept the government's proposal. Unfortunately, this means that the first seven of my September pensions strike predictions will have come true. Only one question remains: will a disappointed and demoralised rank-and-file will reluctantly accept the 'deal', or will a furious rank-and-file will take democratic control of their own struggle, unify across sectional lines, and go on an all-out attack against the government.

If it is to be the latter, workers must reject the 'there is no money' mantra and raise their own demand: for the confiscation of the trillions held by the banks and the wealthiest corporations. The public sector pensions "black hole" described by Hutton must be filled by taking from those who live the high life at working class expense. There is money enough to ensure a better standard of living for 'the 99%', but to achieve this, that immense majority must struggle for their liberation from the capitalist system.

Read more on why workers and union bosses are enemies.
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