The decision by the leaders of the main Local Government and Health unions like UNISON and GMB - and others like the ATL - to sign-up to the ‘Heads of Agreement’ on pensions is a sorry capitulation to Government pressure.
Just as, once again, another report reveals how big firms are getting away with billions of pounds of tax avoidance, trade union leaders have accepted cuts to the livelihoods of millions of workers who, once again, are expected to pay the price for a crisis that was none of our making.
If this deal is allowed to go through, it also risks encouraging this Government to accelerate all its other attacks on jobs, conditions and public services. In Parliament, Danny Alexander made absolutely clear that his proposals will make pensions "substantially more affordable to alternative providers" - paving the way for the further privatisation that was always a key driver to these pension cuts.
Fortunately, not every union leader has shown the same lack of backbone. The main education unions, NUT, NASUWT, UCU – along with UCAC in Wales and EIS in Scotland – have refused to sign-up by the imposed deadline. The PCS rejected the deal outright – and have the support of others like NIPSA. UNITE did not sign-up to the deal in Health after details of the proposals were shared with – and rejected – by their Health Sector National Committee.
While the weak-willed leaders will try to claim that they have won important ‘concesssions’, Danny Alexander’s assurance to Parliament yesterday reveals the truth, that the Government will still be able to make the planned "tens of billions of pounds" of savings if the ‘deal’ goes through,. The overall ‘cost-ceiling’ budget imposed for the schemes has not been lifted, so that any ‘concessions’ could only be paid for by worsening of arrangements somewhere else.
For example, UNISON have claimed improved 'accrual rates' - the rate at which pension benefits are built up – as a victory. But Alexander made clear to MPs that any improvement would be offset by a lower revaluation linked to prices rather than earnings. Or, as he put in bluntly: "These agreements deliver the government's key objectives in full, and do so with no new money since our November offer".
The sorry truth is that those union leaders have signed up to deals which are only marginally different to those which were correctly rejected in November and against which millions of workers took united strike action. The underlying principles of the ‘Heads of Agreement’ deals are brutally clear – public sector workers must pay more, to get less pension and to retire older. How can any serious trade union leader accept them?
Once the truth is revealed, and trade union members see how their pay and pensions are being cut, there will be real anger against leaders who have caved-in so easily. However, the Government hope that a deal can be rushed through before opposition from below can put a stop to it.
There is now an urgent need to campaign in every union for a rejection of the deal. Already it is reported that the Local Government unions are questioning what has been agreed after Eric Pickles sent a letter that apparently announced new conditions about limits to employers' contributions - meaning that employees' contributions would have to rise. http://union-news.co.uk/2011/12/breaking-news-unison-unite-and-gmb-withdraw-from-pensions-deal/
When the NASUWT and NUT Executives meet in early January to discuss the proposals, they must be opposed. In doing so, we must also confirm plans for further action alongside other unions in the New Year. At least now the stark reality will be clear to all – we fight on or we allow the Government to get away with their robbery of our hard-earned pensions.
As a key part of that urgent campaign, Left Unity in PCS, the union that has stood firmest against the proposals, has organised an emergency conference in London on Saturday January 7th in Friends Meeting House, Euston at 11 am. Mark Serwotka will be one of the main speakers. Everyone who is serious about defending our pensions against the Government’s attacks should try and be there.