Sunday 12 July 2009

Pensions, private and public

I posted some time ago about Fujitsu's attack on Defined Benefit pensions, arguing that it was of wide significance.

Since then a slew of other companies have announced their intention to close final salary (defined benefit) pension schemes, including Barclays, BP, Morrisons and most recently IBM.

Many of the companies attacking pensions are financially strong. What we are seeing is an attempt to permanently shift wealth from the workforce to shareholders and permanently shift risk from the shareholders to the workforce. The recession is providing a convenient smokescreen under which to try to force through these attacks in the hope that workers will feel less confident to fight back and the companies will suffer less staff attrition.

So far, the evidence suggests that workers are not falling for the con.

At Fujitsu, where I work, there is a strong mood to fight if necessary. UNITE membership across the company has increased by over 20% already this year, largely through our campaign on pay and pensions. We were planning to start a consultative ballot on Monday, but have paused this process after the company agreed that the "consultation period" would not end as soon as they originally planned. We have an appeal leaflet summarising the issues available online, and news is posted on our news blog. One enthusiastic member has even set up an unofficial web site with an internet radio station for the campaign!

While the outcome of these attempts to close pension schemes in the private sector is still undecided, the media and Tory politicians have launched an absolutely massive propaganda offensive. They want to misdirect the anger of private sector workers against public sector workers, instead of against their own employers and the government. It is hard to turn on a news programme without hearing of "gold plated" public sector pension schemes.

Trade unionists should always oppose any effort to divide workers - it always leaves us weaker. But this attempt to divide us on private-public lines is particularly dangerous given that around 50% of union members are in the public sector. The Tories and media are trying to mobilise the majority of the population against half the trade union movement. We fall for this at our peril.

The reality is that in the public sector, as in the private, the real divisions are between the top and the bottom. There is justifiable anger about MPs pensions, when they do nothing to protect ours. But to turn that anger against (for example) local government workers who on average get a pension of under £8000 is wrong.

In the face of this recession we need to unite workers from public and private sector against attempts to make working people pay for an economic crisis we didn't create.


Jon Rogers said...

Thanks for this post, which is spot on.

As a public sector worker (and member of the Local Government Pension Scheme) I don't want to be part of a minority with some pension security.

I want our movement to campaign for decent defined benefit pensions for all workers in the public, private or voluntary sectors.

An immediate priority is therefore to defend the defined benefit schemes we still have.

John Gray said...

Hi Ian

Go on the attack - decent pensions cost money. DB or DC. It doesn't matter. DB shares the risk, while DC doesn't. A decent DB joint pension committe should be able to migrate risk so that the scheme should proper never mind survive.