Magazine article Public Finance

TUC Draws Up Battle Plan over Pensions

Magazine article Public Finance

TUC Draws Up Battle Plan over Pensions

Article excerpt

Public sector trade unions this week warned that they could initiate the biggest UK strike since 1926 after months of posturing between general secretaries and senior ministers ended in a stand-off over controversial pension reforms.

Senior trade unionists told Public Finance that they believe national strike action over the Labour government's cost-cutting retirement proposals could be 'just months away' after the prime minister, chancellor and senior Cabinet colleagues snubbed demands for a rethink after attending the annual Trades Union Congress in Brighton.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said industrial action was 'absolutely inevitable' unless the government backed down over plans to raise the retirement age across the public services from 60 to 65.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, the largest public sector union, warned: 'I say, think again. I promise you this, we are stronger and more united than ever before and we will take strike action to defend our pensions.'

But Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown, along with Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson, made it clear to delegates that ministers would dig their heels in over plans to raise the retirement age across the public sector.

This proposal forms part of the government s wider pension reform programme and economic modernisation agenda.

Local government, health, civil service and education unions backed down from strike threats over pensions in advance of the general election, after Johnson offered a 'fresh start' to negotiations. But union leaders feel they have made little progress in discussions since then.

The extent of their anger was highlighted at a TUC fringe event on September 12, when 13 general secretaries, including the leaders of 'moderate' organisations such as the FDA and Prospect civil service unions, threatened to lead walkouts.

Other public sector unions there included the Public and Commercial Services union, Fire Brigades Union, the GMB, the T&G, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers and the Prison Officers Association.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, was also present. …

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