Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials, 13 February 2007

13 February 2007

 Out for the posties' pensions

Royal Mail's plan to close its final salary pension scheme to new entrants marks another escalation in the attacks against workers' pensions. Indeed, while this is common practice in the private sector, it is unprecedented in the state sector.

This announcement was stage-managed to coincide with an alleged 87% fall in Royal Mail's profits over the past six months. Except that this turns out to be due to a long-deferred contribution made by the company into its pension fund! How much can they lie?

But this is not the only deception. Royal Mail claims its pension fund deficit is now £6.6bn - a £1bn increase over last year. Yet most of the fund's assets are in shares, and the London share market index has just reached a 6-year high! How come then, has this deficit increased so drastically?

Of course, workers have no means of checking such colossal figures. They are worked out behind closed doors. The process remains shrouded in secrecy, in the name of "commercial confidentiality", no doubt.

However, some experts have given the game away. They say that the £1.1bn deficit increase already announced by Royal Mail last year was, in fact, due to raising the assumed life expectancy of a male worker from 82 to 86 years! But how many postal workers actually live to such an age? Definitely not many after a whole life on shift work!

Who knows what new trick the government has invented this year at Royal Mail? But what we do know is that such lies have already been used as a pretext to deprive hundreds of thousands of workers of any chance to get a decent pension.

Should it be tolerated, when the real problem is that companies have been helping themselves from the till, by raiding pension funds over many years? In the case of the Post Office, in addition, billions of pounds of postal profits have gone straight into Brown's coffers.

And today, bosses and ministers have the nerve to tell us that we should agree to reduced pensions because of the deficit they created? No way!

It is high time the working class imposed its scrutiny. When we decide we have had enough of these thieves, we will force them to open their books. Then we will see where the money has gone and from whose pockets we can get it back!

 Their profits fuel poverty

A recent survey shows that what the government calls "fuel poverty" has increased by 33% over the past year: today over 2m pensioners spend more than 10% of their income on their energy bills.

But guess what? BG, the oil and gas production group has just announced a 21% profit increase, up to £1.6bn. And this despite having handed out £1bn to its shareholders!

This is the company whose chief executive stated, last November that "gas prices in the UK will have to go up in the long-term", on the grounds that North Sea resources were supposed to be drying up. What he forgot to say was that BG had just discovered 5 new oil and gas fields in the North Sea! Then, of course, these are people who make a living (and a very comfortable one at that) by pushing prices up!

But why should gas prices go up? In fact, over the past 10 months gas costs have gone down by more than half. And it is only now that British Gas, the distributing company, announces a cut in its prices - but by only 17%.

The truth is, that with bill increases averaging something like 40% over the past year, energy companies have been overbilling the rest of us beyond their wildest dreams - up to an average £1,100 per household per year! Not to mention the use of cons like the so-called "rebates" promised to those who pay their bills in advance by fixed monthly instalments. The trick then is to force the naive consumers to accumulate credit over and above their consumption.

This is highway robbery by a small gang of very big companies which are supposed to be competing with one another for consumers, but are actually conspiring together to keep prices as high as they can. Ironically, this is supposed to be kept under the scrutiny of one of the so-called "regulators" created at the time of privatisation. But the only thing these "regulators" do is to enforce the right of the profit sharks to rip the rest of us off.

Meanwhile, more and more people have to suffer from lack of heating - pensioners, but also those on very low income. In this society the enormous profits raked in by a handful of capitalists only reflect the suffering of millions. It stinks!