TUC statement on pensions

Speaking at a press conference today TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

“The TUC’s public service unions met urgently today after the conclusion of the TUC’s annual Congress to receive a report on the most recent round of negotiations with the government on public service pensions and to consider the next steps in their united campaign to defend decent pensions for millions of public services workers as part of their battle for decent pensions for all.

“The TUC and unions are committed to continuing the talks with the government, and with the relevant employers in each of the separate major public service pensions schemes, but the government is urged to bring new proposals to the table urgently to make progress possible. Today’s meeting also agreed, however, given the failure of the government to engage properly in the negotiations, to step up the campaign and to hold a first day of action on Wednesday 30 November.

“Each union has been asked to consider taking what they judge to be the most appropriate form of action possible to show their support for this united campaign.

“This would range from strike action, where ballot mandates have been secured from members and unions judge that appropriate, through to lunchtime meetings, rallies and joint events with community groups and service users. The intention will be to take the call for pensions justice for both public and private sector workers to every corner of the land on that day in the biggest trade union mobilisation in a generation.

“Further consideration is being given to what further action may be appropriate beyond the day of action if progress towards a settlement is not secured.

“A further meeting will be held before the end of September to receive reports from unions on plans being made.”

“This call reflects the huge anger of public service workers over the threat to their pensions and the deep frustration over difficulties of securing government engagement in meaningful negotiations. This planned day of action will be an unprecedented coming together of the whole public service workforce and the communities they serve in a united demand for pensions justice.

“We remain absolutely committed, in good faith, to seeking a fair negotiated settlement of this dispute so that this action will not be necessary. But the government needs to understand the strength of unions’ resolve reflected in today’s decision.”

Comment: I don’t think  I have ever seen such commitment from unions to the case for defending members pensions in the public sector. It was a fantastic debate. And it makes Ed Miliband’s speech the day before seem all the more disconnected from what is really the case. Many of the speakers stressed that industrial action was the very last resort – but there was no option as the Government was not negotiating in a serious way. As Brendan said – it takes two sides to negotiate.

That point has been made on a number of occasions over the past few months. So why did Ed wade in? It has been suggested that his just was not briefed on what has going on in negotiations. Then again Ed has little experience of the what actually goes on in negotiations with employers, especially when employers string things along, make only very minor concessions but keep repeating the mantra that “talks are on-going” and it is wrong to take industrial action. Ed has fallen into that trap.

Of course it was also suggested that bashing the unions distances Ed from the unions in the eyes of the public – if that was the plan then it was a mistake.

Len McCluskey of Unite hit the nail on the head with this comment: “What I think is happening at the moment is that the leadership of the Labour Party has got itself into a position where in order to pacify the voracious animal that is the rightwing press, or the undead Blairites, it is having this virility contest with the trade unions. I wish it wouldn’t do that; I wish Ed wouldn’t do that.”

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