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June the 30th saw some of the biggest industrial strike action the UK has ever seen, here, Genereal Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, Mark Serwotka, discusses why the strikes needed to happen and the reaction to the latest public sector pension announcements

What were the immediate reactions to yesterdays (28/7/11) Pension announcements on behalf of the government?

We were very angry, but frankly, not surprised. Angry because the government keeps telling everyone that it is negotiating but we have seen no results. Yesterday (28/7/11)confirms what we have being saying for weeks, the talk processes have been a farce. We have not been talking about the key questions and we remain of the view that this is totally unjustified and the evidence points to the fact that the changes we made five years ago which dealt with people living longer and rising costs means that it is not necessary now to force people to pay more. The talks have moved from central government and have now moved to what is called the ‘ scheme specific talks’ which is where the employee talks with their employer over their pension. We are not interested in discussing the cuts or implementing these changes, we want to prevent the reforms, however at this stage we have not been engaged in any dialogue on the next steps.

What is the alternative to pension reform?

There is two ways, the first is to recognise that cuts have made the economic situation worse and therefore suppressing pay rates, cutting incomes and cutting jobs, all deflate the economy and give people less money to spend and create a negative impact on the private sector. The second, we believe that there is vast amount of evidence of a tax gap in this country estimated at over a £120 billion pounds which is avoided, evaded or not collected. We say that whilst the Chancellor wants to make bold cuts he should opt to seek this tax which has yet to be recuperated. Our alternative is to be much harder on the chancellor to recoup this tax and to grow our way out of this deficit , not taking from the most vulnerable.

Have the Public Sector had it easy in the way of pensions compared to the private?

We say that there is a scandal going on in this country and this is private sector pensions. Over the last fifteen years they have withered and been driven down to a low level, however those at the top of the company are doing ok. We do not dispute there isn’t a problem with private sector provision, what we are saying though is that the government must tackle this unlevel playing field. Our strike action on the 30th of June put pensions debate centre stage in Britain and we are very happy to say that we are campaigning to defend public sector pensions whilst also calling for private sector pensions provisions to be increased. Andrew Lansley seems to understand our argument, yet his colleagues aren’t so sure. We have launched a petition between the public and private sectors and the pensioners convention. All our private sector members have not complained about our strike, instead they have shown real support.

Are Teachers, Nurses and public sector employees paying the ultimate price for the downturn in our economy?

We have no doubt that the government is using the economic difficulties as a cover for a real ideological assault. This is why this is not about economics it is about politics. This government has used the economic problems to persuade this country we must all swallow bitter pills in the hope of creating a smokescreen of persuasion which leaves no guilt at their door.

Take a look at where they want to reduce the deficit:
- it amazes me they do nothing about tax relief on the private sector pensions of the rich, but yet ask public sector workers to pay millions more,
-they do nothing about closing tax loopholes, but yet freeze the pay of low paid public sector workers,
-they do nothing about inefficiency such as IT procurement in central government, yet in the public sector we are told we must lose half a million jobs.

This tells us a lot about the government’s stance and draws a clear picture which concludes that the long game is the transfer from state to private sector. The governments white paper is extraordinarily ambitious in its scale and by reducing public sector pensions down now it will make it far easier for private companies to take over much of the public services. The CBI has been so reciprocate in welcoming the plans to reduce pensions as this opens a gateway for their members to run our public services.
If the public feel their jobs are in-secure and their pensions are reduced then this will obviously affect their spending and fail to increase the economy which in turn hinders the deficit which was obvious when Mondays growth figures were announced.

Would Labour have made these cuts?

Yes I think they would have, when we had a Labour government we were opposed to many of their policies. When I met the Prime Minister and his Deputy recently I was told by both that there would have been similar cuts under Labour and I replied that we would have opposed them too. Labour would have made cuts but maybe not as scatter gun , quick and deep as the Conservatives have, but ultimately, whatever party is in power we have a right to defend our members and their families as a Union.

Will there be any further strikes?

Yes, detailed planning is already being undertaken between Unions now for preparation in the autumn. Our strategy ,to coin a phrase, “is to hope for the best and prepare for the worse”. We enter any contractual talks with the hope of gaining progress and negotiations based on compromise, but as there is no sign of this we will expect to strike again in the autumn. We must not forget the 30th of June was one of the most supported and biggest days of industrial action seen by this country for years.

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Written by Mark Serwotka   
Friday, 29 July 2011 15:04

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