Thousands of angry public sector workers protested on Thursday June 30th across Britain. Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers went on strike across the UK over planned pension changes. Teachers from three unions have walked out and more than 40% of state schools in England and Wales have been closed or partially shut. The Public and Commercial Services union, which includes police support and border staff, are also on strike. The ConDem Coalition has already carried out a sustained ideologically driven assault on working people in the Public Sector in its first year in office.
Salaries have been frozen for two years; pension contributions have increased by 3% and now there is proposed a substantial dilution of benefits with career average pensions and longer working lives. That this is ideologically driven can be seen in the fact that no assessment of the costs and benefits of the Con Dem Coalitions proposals which like much else in their programme were never in a manifesto or voted for. Indeed they have been forced to concede that Public Sector pension funding is actually projected to go down as a percentage of GDP. What you have is a media spin campaign against “Gold Plated Public Sector Pensions.” However the average Public Sector Pension is £6,000 a year which wouldn’t buy much gold plate.
The government says the plans are “fair to taxpayers” and other unions are continuing with negotiations. It has condemned the strike as has the opposition, although Labour leader Ed Miliband has accused ministers of mishandling negotiations with the unions. The action by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union (UCU) affects England and Wales. The unions say the proposals would mean more work and contributions for a reduced pension.
Information from about 75% of England’s 21,500 state schools showed a third would close, a third would remain open, and a third would be partially closed. In Wales, according to local authority figures, more than 1,000 out of 1,800 schools are either closed or partially closed.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said his members were left with no choice but to take action as the government was not prepared to “compromise on any of the central issues of the strike. While they are talking, they are not negotiating.” Mr Serwotka said the cost of public sector pensions would fall over the next 40 years and accused the government of, having initially claimed they were unaffordable, now trying to “move the goalposts and say they are untenable”. When the minister said there had been widespread pension reform across the private sector – Mr Serwotka accused him of revealing the “real agenda” of a “race to the bottom”. He said Mr Maude was “floundering” over the details because he had “tried to mislead people. The costs are falling, you want people to work up to eight years longer, pay lots more money in, get less out,” the union chief said.
Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said contingency plans meant supervisory staff and police officers were manning phones, but it had created a “much more challenging” situation than usual.
Sir Paul also told a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting that 75% of civilian staff at the Palace of Westminster had failed to turn up for duty. He said it meant police officers from borough-based teams were filling in for striking staff and the “service to Londoners was necessarily degraded”.
The fact of the matter is Pension provision in Britain is poor with over a third of the workforce having no pension provision. Private Sector Pension provision has been a disgrace with the cost over a contribution term in Britain from providers being twice the equivalent in Germany and Holland. The State Pension in Britain is one of the lowest in Europe and Britain is a land of congenital meanness to the elderly charging them full Council Tax, TV Licence fees, etc; In Germany a teacher retires on 80% salary – the big issue is the shameful overall pension provision in the UK which is why workers should continue to reject the Coalition of Millionaires’ diktat to create a artificial race to the bottom between Private and Public Sector.