Friday, March 02, 2012

Call this a Party?

Labour abstainers' cold water on pensions will raise steam

"Labour party whipping Labour MPs to abstain on my pensions motion to restore link with RPI and prevent pensions cuts. Disappointing".

It brought the usual range of comments on Facebook, including some wise guys surprised that John was disappointed or surprised, and a few amiably inviting him to join them in the Green Party, unaware perhaps that since the Greens took over in Brighton they have showed themselves just as capable of making cuts as Labour, and started losing members accordingly.

But I don't think the issue was about party point scoring or if John McDonnell has any illusions left, which I doubt, in the parliamentary Labour Party. He was elected as a Labour MP (with an increased majority) having shown his independence and dedication to the working class, and will doubtless continue fighting as a socialist and leave it to the Labour bigwigs whether they want to do something about it.

This was not about his views or fight as one MP.

A man called Jim Singer had set out for London from Aberdeen, travelling 500 miles to watch MPs debate pensions because of a petition he started on the internet. His petition, the fifth most popular on the government's e-petition site, with just under 110,000 signatures, says Chancellor George Osborne's move to link pensions to the consumer price index CPI) rather than the retail price index (RPI) is unfair.

The CPI takes no account for instance of housing costs. Jim's petition says the change will "mean a steady reduction in spending power for pensioners as they progress into their retirement".

Osborne had no prior consultation or negotiations before announcing the switch in the 2010 budget, and the government has refused to talk with unions since. This is one of the reasons why public sector unions took strike action on November 30, and are planning further action. It is estimated the change will cost public sector workers an average £15,000 and will also effect many private pensions, wiping an estimated £75 billion off their value.

It is quite likely that a lot of these people who will be effected, and of the thousands who signed Jim's petition, did have the idea that Labour was on their side, and they will be disappointed.

Jim Singer is a member of the PCS union and here is what they have to say about it:

Workers need representation as Labour ducks out

1 March 2012

PCS has criticised the "democratic deficit" in representation for working people after Labour MPs were told to abstain this afternoon (1 March) in a vote on the way pensions are calculated.

The motion being debated was in support of a petition tabled by PCS member Jim Singer, a civil servant from Aberdeen.

More than 110,000 people have supported Jim’s call for the Retail Price Index (RPI) to be restored as the measure for upgrading pensions instead of the usually lower Consumer Price Index (CPI).

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and chair of the PCS parliamentary group, secured the debate and moved the motion.

He praised Jim Singer for his efforts, pointed out that CPI was an unsuitable measure because it ignored housing costs, and accused the government of making pensioners pay for a financial deficit they didn’t cause.

Labour pensions spokesman Gregg McClymont said his party was opposed to the use of CPI to upgrade pensions for the long term – but not as a short term measure to reduce the deficit.

John, was joined by other Labour rebels and representatives of smaller parties, to make the vote 33 in favour of restoring RPI, with 232 against.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “I would like to praise Jim Singer for bringing this important debate to Westminster and thank John McDonnell and the 32 MPs who supported him for standing up for working people who have had their futures pulled from under them.

“Jim and thousands of others signed up to their jobs with a written ‘guarantee’ that they would have pensions improved every year by RPI.

“While we are told that for contractual reasons bankers must have their bonuses, the written promises to loyal public servants are treated with contempt.

“Jim has worked for the government for 35 years. Now he and his wife Sheena will lose tens of thousands of pounds from their pensions because of this change.

“If only 33 MPs can see that this is unfair we have reached a point where something must be done to address the democratic deficit and lack of representation in parliament for ordinary working people.”

PCS – which is not affiliated to any political party – will be balloting members in June on whether the union should support candidates who agree with the organisation’s policies at future elections.

PCS and political campaigning

You can still sign the petition

Use our pay and pensions calculator to see how much you will lose

Read our ‘Fair pensions for all’ booklet

Meanwhile my own union, which unlike PCS is affilaited to Labour, has come under fire after our general secretary Len McCluskey had the temerity to suggest that the coming Olympics, when property developers and other profiteers look to make millions in profits, for instance from expensively sold knickknacks produced cheaply in foreign sweatshops, might also be a good opportunity for working people to raise their concerns over pensions and cuts.

David Cameron, whose funders have moved so much of British industry abroad and who pay so little tax in this country, has condemned us as "unpatriotic".

Incidentally, though Ed Milliband jumped to condemn the union and Len McCluskey at Cameron's command, I did hear that Ken Livingstone, Labour's hopeful to make a mayoral comeback, had also joined Mayor Boris Johnson in denouncing the idea of strikes and civil disobediance disrupting the Olympic show. I've tried to check this but without finding a quote, and it is not mentioned in the Morning Star report.

But then the Morning Star and its supporters have been keen that we get behind Ken's bid for mayor. And only the other day someone from Unite was mobilising union members in west London to go out canvassing for Livingstone. Life is full of ironies.

I've not heard whether Labour has gone along with Cameron's further demand that it return Unite's cheque. Come to think of it we heard this sort of crap from Bullingdon Boy during the BA cabin crews' strike. The Tories even sent a propaganda lorry which parked near where strikers and their supporters were meeting (with Len McCluskey among the speakers), I don't know if they were daft enough to think it would get support or hoping it would get vandalised.

The Condem government is putting out contradictory signals right now, like saying they are making a u-turn on compulsory workfare, which if you believed their supporters was voluntary anyway, while insisting the only opposition to the scheme originated from a handful of "Trotskyites".

They are also relying on the Labour "opposition" to quash anyone actually opposing them.
Not that Labour, with its recent record in mind, enjoys much respect or authority in the unions or the working class. We are just taking our time getting around to an alternative. These are interesting and somewhat confusing times for the relationship between Labour and the unions.

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