Britain: Workers strike back against cuts

June 24, 2011
Rally against the cuts. London, March 26.

Britain’s public sector unions are set to unleash a wave of strikes starting on June 30 in response to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s attack on workers’ pensions.

Unions have called a national day of action for June 30. Nearly 1 million public sector workers will strike for 24 hours. said on June 20: “The strike is a collaboration between four large public sector unions: the National Union of Teachers; the Association of Teachers and Lecturers; the University and College Union; and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who says its members ‘are essential to the day-to-day running of the country’.”

The government is proposing that Britain’s estimated 6 million state employees pay higher pension contributions, retire later and receive less money once they retire.

Under the proposed pension reform, worker contributions to pensions will rise 50% from 6.4% to 9.8% of salary.

Retirement ages will rise for all state employees. The current age of individual workers determining when they will qualify for their retirement pensions.

Workers’ pensions will also be calculated differently, based on average pay earned across the whole of an individual’s career, significantly reducing pension amounts.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said it was daylight robbery to expect civil servants to work eight years longer, up contributions three-fold and yet see pensions halved, said on June 16.

He said: “The very modest pay and pensions of public servants did not cause the recession, so they should not be blamed or punished for it.”

The general secretary of Unison, Britain’s largest public sector trade union, Dave Prentis, speaking at Unison’s national conference on June 21, told the government: “Don’t underestimate the outrage and anger of our members, at the savagery of your gratuitous attack on our pensions — to pay more, get less, work longer/

“An attack on over 5 million workers — 20 million affected, all on a false premise. That our pensions are gold plated, unaffordable.

“We stand firmly behind our brothers and sisters from PCS, UCU, NUT and ATL on the 30 June. Their fight is our fight.

“We will strike to defend our pensions. A campaign of strike action without precedent.

“Strike action will need to be sustained. And the political and public campaigns intensified.”

Unison’s President Angela Lynes said on June 21: “We are under assault on a number of fronts. On pensions, the government is determined to hit us with a triple whammy — they want us to pay more, work longer and then get less when we retire.

“The economy is being dragged back towards recession by a chancellor, who refuses to accept the need for a Plan B, despite all the evidence that Plan A is not working.

“There is a refusal to listen to the pain experienced by our sisters and brothers in Greece, Portugal and Ireland, where austerity has simply driven the economy into an ever-deeper crisis.

“Instead, growth has stalled and is even stopping the government from hitting its own deficit targets.

“The effect is felt every day by real people. Unemployment is huge, homelessness is on the rise and spiralling inflation has meant that the poorest are once again the hardest hit.

“But it doesn’t stop there. One of the ways the government thinks it can save cash is by parcelling as many of our services off to the private sector as possible.”

The attack on public worker’s pensions began in March when the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission made recommendations to the government.

The commission, headed by Lord Hutton, published its final report on March 10.

It advised the government: “We need to get on with the process of change if we are to maximise the benefits from reform … The current legal framework for public service pensions needs a complete overhaul and I am making specific recommendations in this area.”

Hutton also said: “Making these changes will not be easy or straightforward.

“Confronting the fundamental challenges posed to our pension system caused by rising life expectancy, managing inflation and in some cases investment risks over the long term, ensuring productivity in the wider economy and value for money for taxpayers requires us to make difficult choices.” correspondent Polly Curtis said on June 19: “Millions of teachers, nurses, civil servants and members of the armed forces will be thousands of pounds poorer in retirement as well as having to work longer.”

The Labour Party’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, urged unions not to fall into a Coalition government “trap” by striking, reported on June 21.

Prentis responded by saying: “When we want your advice, Ed, we’ll ask for it.”

Prentis said: “In future we will only support Labour candidates who support our values, our people and our union.”

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.