Thursday 17 June 2010

Originally posted by me on Digital Spy's Politics Forum in response to an Opening Poster (OP) ranting about our "gold plated pensions":

I've come late to this thread because I'm busy working at UNISON's national delegate conference. Yes, I'm one of the nasty public sector union people that the OP was complaining about. During yesterday's proceedings, Paul Moist of the Canadian Union of Public Employees gave us a speech where he pointed out that the real pensions scandal is that Private Sector workers have had their decent pensions stolen from them by their employers.

Most large private sector employers used to offer Defined Benefit pension schemes were the employee would contribute a small amount of their wages and the employer would put money into the pot too. The reasons why they have been closed have been variously put as "we can't afford it any more" and "people are living much longer now". Neither of those are true, the real reason is that employers prefer to have the money to add to their profit rather than provide for their employees' old age.

In 1981 (I chose the year because we were in a recession that year too) Defined Benefit schemes were almost universal in private as well as public sector. The country earned £256bn that year. In 2009 the country earned £1.396trn, but as the pound now is worth only 31.6% of a 1981 pound that is equivalent to £441bn in 1981 prices. Britain now is 72% richer than it was 28 years ago and we could afford decent pensions then.

Is it because we're living longer, again, that doesn't stack up. In 1981 if you lived till 60 (the usual retirement age then) you could expect on average to live to 75. Now if you live till 65 (again, the usual retirement age) you can expect on average to live to 81. That's 1 more year of post retirement life. Considering the increase in wealth, we can easily afford that, and if we can't we could increase employees contributions (as the NHS recently did, my contribution went up from 6% to 6.5%).

Ironically as many more private sector workers will have to rely on means-tested benefits to have a basic retirement income, taxpayers are funding their pensions more than they are funding the public sector pensions.

Now that the private sector workers have had their pockets pinched, this government are pointing to the public sector workers and saying "it's not fair, they've got more than you". We're not the enemy though, the bosses, the rich, they have your money. If the government succeed in making public sector retirees poorer, it won't make the private sector retirees any richer.

I do think that it's not fair that the public sector have decent pensions and the private sector doesn't. But my solution is that the private sector should have decent pensions too. If you want to fight for that, the unions want to help.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

It's been a long time...

It has been a long time and when I retire I'll talk all about it, but I am back.

This post is about when to be reasonable and when it's best not to be. I think I move across the line of reasonableness sometimes but here's my views. I'm not particularly left wing - I used to be called "Son of Blair" in Yeovil Labour Party and at the time actually enjoyed the label. A few years later I was being called a Trot in Mabledon Place, headquarters of UNISON, again I wasn't offended in the slightest. What I do passionately believe in is serving UNISON, fighting for our members' rights and doing the right thing for my class. But in that I've always been pragmatic, going for what works rather than what the dogmatically correct path might be. I've always been happy to grab the half-loaf if that's the only thing that can be on offer.

So that brings me to Amendment 58.1 at UNISON's national delegate conference. Written by Tower Hamlets branch it condemns the waste of our money on PFI schemes and called for them all to be brought back under public ownership with compensation only on the basis of proven need. Is it realistic? Not currently, even Railtrack shareholders had to be compensated when they were forced to sell up to Network Rail. My good friend James Anthony called it a fantasy policy. But it's the right policy and here's why.

Everything that the union movement and the working class has ever achieved has at one point been called unrealistic. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were unrealistic when they thought they could form a trade union. Michael Sadler was unrealistic when he thought that children under age nine should have to go to school rather than be forced to work. Harriet Taylor was being unrealistic when she argued that women should have the vote. If everyone in history only settled for what's achievable then we would be still living in caves and explaining to each other why we shouldn't bother trying to make fire ourselves.

I think that we shouldn't be ashamed to say what we believe, we might have to settle for less, but if we don't try, we can't succeed. If we stop fighting now, the government will see us bit by bit back into being mere serfs and the sooner UNISON's leadership realises what a fight we're in the better.