'Stop the great pensions robbery'

(22/06/11)

“Lies, damned lies and the inventions of a Tory poodle.” That was how Jane Carolan described what UNISON is facing as she introduced the pensions debate with a statement from the national executive committee (NEC) in Manchester this morning.

And she had particular scorn for “Tory lackey” Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, whose intervention last week suggested that the government is negotiating in bad faith, having already made up its mind what it will do.

She also noted that public sector pensions had “already been future-proofed by the last government – and it would be nice to hear them mention this”.

As the debate itself got under way, speaker after speaker focused on two key points:

  • the need to organise and build for any industrial action;
  • the need to combat the “lies” in much of the mainstream media by educating the public.

Lilian Macer of Scotland said that it was “vital that this government be stopped”.

She reminded delegates that the attacks on public sector pensions are “political”, as they act as “a barrier to privatisation.”

And she added: “If anyone out there thinks that privatisation is a good thing, I have only two words for you – Southern Cross”.

She urged delegates to “organise, agitate and educate to stop the great pensions robbery”.

Rae Voller for the women’s self-organised group called on conference to “end this nightmare – and dream again of a fair society”.

Delegates heard that it was essential not to allow the government and its allies to turn the issue into a them against us, private versus public question, saying that private sector pensions were poor, but would not be helped by a “race to the bottom”.

The importance of involving both young and retired members in campaigning was emphasised, while delegates also heard how Black people would be disproportionately affected by the attacks.

Ash Dhobi for the national Black members committee said that members were being made “to pay for the mistakes made by the bankers and financiers”.

Mark Clifford for the NEC noted that: “No one can do everything – but everyone can do something” to build the campaign.

Clare Williams for the NEC spoke of a “litany of broken promises” and asked: “Are we seriously expecting paramedics, nurses, domestics and porters, doing heavy manual work, to work until 68?”

Manchester local government delegate Steve Swift said that “we need to arm ourselves with the facts” and tell people those facts, as well as responding to inaccuracies in the media.

Gilly Anglin-Jarrett of Northamptonshire called on everyone to “stand together” and urged members to “work on your RMS data, support the motions and do the work”, while John Gray of Greater London stressed the need to “organise carefully”.

Among a raft of specific decisions, conference instructed the NEC to:

  • call on the Labour Link to work to gain a commitment from the Labour Party to repeal the change from RPI to CPI when re-elected;
  • develop a campaign strategy to defend public sector pensions and in support of affordable pensions for all workers;
  • encourage and support regions and branches to campaign locally;
  • raise awareness of the disproportionate impact on women and Black people;
  • campaign to address the myths around public sector pensions that are being generated by the right-wing media.