The great pension robbery - the thieves can and should be stopped!

20 June 2011

TUC leaders were certainly right to accuse Treasury Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, of staging a "provocation" by stating, last Friday, that the ConDem public service pension cuts will go ahead, as planned. This was a way for the government to twist the arm of union leaders who would rather avoid a showdown. By the same token, it was a way for ministers to test the water, so as to gauge what they might be able to get away with.

Predictably, union leaders were furious. Some even renewed an old threat (already used once under Gordon Brown) to engineer "the biggest wave of industrial action since the general strike of 1926". But if they were furious, it was not really because of the cuts outlined by Alexander as such, but because his speech was actually designed to make them look rather stupid!

Behind-the-scenes manoeuvres

The truth is that both Alexander's speech and the union leaders' furious reactions are part of a cat-and-mouse game between the tops of the union machineries and the government - a game which has been going on for some time.

Because, contrary to Ed Miliband's claims on TV, neither side is involved in "megaphone diplomacy". Quite the opposite, in fact. Both sides are doing "closed door diplomacy"! They have been negotiating behind the scenes over public sector pensions - and, like with all secret negotiations, these have involved every dirty trick in the book, including the kind of "provocation" used by Alexander.

In fact, for the vast majority of the 6m public sector workers, Alexander's speech was probably the first public acknowledgement that pension negotiations were actually taking place!

In any case, none of the main union leaders, no matter how "radical" their rhetoric may be, bothered to reveal that they were taking part in these discussions - let alone report back to their members on what was being discussed. So, not only did Alexander's speech make union leaders look awkward in front of their own members, but it highlighted the union machineries' dubious manoeuvring behind members' backs.

One can only wonder what there is for the unions to be negotiating about, with a government which boasts that it aims to force public service workers to pay higher contributions and retire later on much reduced pensions?

The union leaders' insistence on negotiating in secret, smells fishily familiar - of a sell out in the making, which will need to be prevented!

An issue which concerns all of us

Going cap in hand to the bosses or their politicians in order to bargain for some minor "concession", has never been an effective strategy for workers. It is certainly no option at a time when the capitalists are on the offensive! Today, it is not just pensions, but all social provisions needed by the working class, which are being targeted.

The politicians and their media lie when they argue that "gold-plated" public sector pensions are "unaffordable" and that it is "unfair" that private sector workers should work longer to pay for the pensions earned by public sector workers.

What is "unaffordable" for any society is to allow its economy to be controlled, and pushed into bankruptcy, by a tiny number of greedy parasites. What is "unfair" is that these parasites were (and they are still) bailed out using public funds, while workers' pensions are run down, in the private sector first, and now, in the public sector.

Why is it, that when the productivity of human labour is at an all-time high, the wealth we produce during our working lives is not enough to guarantee a decent pension while we can still enjoy it? Why are we told, instead, that we must slave away till we drop? Why? Because, out of this wealth, hundreds of billions are wasted on speculation and useless luxury. It is only the burden imposed by the parasitism of the capitalist class on society, which is "unaffordable" and "unfair"!

Collectively, the working class creates more than enough wealth to provide all workers with decent retirement. To stop the on-going theft of this wealth by the capitalists, however, workers will have to inspire fear among this class of thieves, by using their collective strength.

So, yes, workers' pensions should be defended, whenever they come under attack. But, beyond this, it is the demand for decent pensions for all, that will have to be raised. And the more workers there are who take part in the initiatives organised on June 30th, when several sections of public sector workers take strike action, the more chance we will have of bringing this demand forward, regardless of the union leaders' agenda.