GMB surrenders to the government on pensions after one day of strike action.

28 12 2011

Barry Biddulph comments on the GMB union’s announcement on the Government’s pensions deal

The GMB’s national secretary for public services, Brian Strutton, has signed up to the TUC-approved Government pensions offer, which surrenders to the government on all the core issues of the pensions fight: working far longer, paying far more and getting far less. There has been no change in the offer in the key areas. Final-salary schemes will be replaced by a career average which will result in huge losses, particularly for women with irregular employment history. Unison leader, Dave Prentis, long seen by Cameron as someone he could do business with, recommended the  deal which breaks with the momentum of strike action and solidarity against the Coalition.

the November 30th public-sector strike over pensions was an advance in the battle against the Coalition: but now union tops have called off the pensions fight

Brian Strutton failed to inform GMB members that he had capitulated to the Government’s threat to impose a worse settlement than the one on offer. In an email to members he presented the deal, which undermines future action against the Government, as some kind of victory. What has been agreed is a ‘process’, he explained. What will be negotiated in this process? Well, he was unable to say. The details would be determined in the process. In other words, in return for suspending  strike action, the Government has agreed to talks on their terms.

Brian Strutton could not allow this reality into his discourse. So he claimed that what had been won was…  recognition by the Government that contributions to the pension schemes had to be affordable for members. He presented no evidence of a change of heart and mind by the Government. Is this Government not the same one which has led the assault on jobs and living conditions to make workers pay for the capitalist crisis? Is it the same government Brian Strutton  described in October 2011 as intransigent for refusing meaningful negotiations throughout discussions?

The truth, is Brian Strutton places more confidence in the Government to come up with trivial concessions on the speed of the changes and modest changes to accrual rates, than any kind of class struggle against the Government, and the state to win a battle on the core issues of the pensions strike. The response of union leaders such as Dave Prentis exposes the illusions of many on the left in trade unionism. The call for a general strike  or ‘all out stay out’ are fantasy without a social and political challenge to the government and capitalism. Pension schemes are based on investments in capitalism, and its stability. The economic crisis means the present schemes are unaffordable for capital. A trade unionist ‘better, fairer capitalism’ is a utopia. The assault on the working class can not be stopped by a trade union pensions dispute alone. The struggle has to be generalised in the context of an alternative to capitalism.

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3 responses

29 12 2011
Barry

Brian Strutton the senior GMB official in the pensions dispute has been in the news on the front page of, The Times. He is described as a moderate. In other words right wing. He is making the news or his friends in high places are rewarding him for his contribution to the pension sell out. Although the Government have applauded him for services rendered or his positive contribution to the pension deal on the government terms,the Times presents his rhetoric of a possible wave of strikes in the private sector over pensions as the real thing. But like Dave prentice and his conference rhetoric its a smoke screen to hide his co-operation with the government.

To counter the coalitions talk from Pickles that mybe the government will pull back from making minor concessions, Strutton can apparently threaten more industrial action as a counter weight. Its a cynical political game. The government makes Strutton and Prentice look like working class heroes, in a token strike, and in return , the TUC Leader allows cameron to appear to be a trade union basher. Everyone wins, except the workers at the grass roots of the trade unions.

10 01 2012
Mark

I agree with the above article by Clifford Biddulph. I’m a UNISON branch secretary who is pretty mortified by the current pause to consider whether to accept a framework for further negotiations or continue with strike action. Words such as “damage limitation” from the leadership have been very demoralising for members since the strike. What the Government is calling their final offer is very unlikely to be improved by negotiations alone without further strike action. The offer on the table will mean that we will be working longer (in my case 7 years longer), paying more and getting less still. Today the leadership of all sections in Unison met to decide what to do after an astonishingly quick consultation with branches that lastest barely a few days. The Local Government and Higher Education section voted to suspend strike action in favour of negotiations but the Health section will conduct a members ballot over the question.

Whatever the outcome of this, ultimately the unions will not be able to stem the tidal wave that is engulfing us as they are not organisationally or politically geared up for this. We can only hope to succeed if we build rank and file organisations based upon direct democracy rather than the bureaucratic/parliamentry democracy of the trade unions. Only then will workers be able to decide their own fate. We also need organisations that don’t seek to reform capitalism but actually want to rip the head off of it. Accepting the legitamacy of capitalism means negotiating always on the terms of the capitalist class. In a recession that means negotiating defensively which means always taking steps backwards. I think that these organisations can be built both inside and outside the trade unions and would cite the Industrial Workers of the World as a fine example of what is needed.

I disagree, however, that public sector pensions are unaffordable for capitalism in the present crisis. The NHS pension isn’t floating on the stock exchange and actually creates £2 billion surplus for the treasury each year. Whilst the Tories would love to continue receiving this surplus whilst cutting costs to pay the deficit/tax cuts for the ruling class, I don’t think it is eroding the profitability of UK Ltd.

14 01 2012
Barry

It might help the discussion if you can give some idea of the amount the employers/state and the workers put into the NHS pension scheme. It might creat a surplus but not enough or rather the employees contributions are not considered to be enough.

Lowering the value of Labour power,driving down living standards,driving up unemployment and reducing capitalist welfare measures such as pensions are a way out of the capitalist crisis. I think Clifford was making this general point.




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