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Arguments for socialism :: Northern Rock
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CWU picket line in East London, photo Naomi Byron
Two weeks ago Royal Mail bosses awarded themselves massive bonuses of over £4.5 million. Last week they sent out letters to the workforce announcing the scrapping of the postal workers' final salary pension scheme. They want them to work an extra five years and get less pension - many stand to lose £20,000!
Royal Mail say they have to do this because there is a £6.6 billion shortfall but this is largely because they had a 'pension holiday' for 17 years when they paid nothing into the pension fund.
Pensions are deferred wages and therefore this attack by Royal Mail bosses, whose strings are pulled by the government, is nothing more than legalised theft.
Maybe if Royal Mail changed its name to 'Northern Rock Mail' then Brown's government would find £6.6 billion overnight. The postal workers are being asked to accept a pension deal that is far worse than anything else in the public sector for existing scheme members.
They are being told to accept that from this April, anyone working for the post office for no matter how many years (except for a few who are close to retirement at the age of 60 now) will be required to work another five years to be able to access their occupational pension.
Local government workers, who were let down by their leadership when it abandoned the PCS-led united front against the government attacks in 2005, will be able to retire at 60 if they were 52 or above last year.
The rest of the existing public-sector workforce (civil servants, teachers, lecturers and health workers) as a result of the PCS-led tactic of the united front, forced the government to concede full protection rights. They will still be able to retire at 60 without any effect on their pensions.
Unfortunately, given the acceptance of the Royal Mail overall pay and jobs deal last year, the mood of postal workers needs to be tested on whether or not to accept the pensions deal. The coming consultative ballot should be conducted vigorously and honestly by the leadership, with an explanation of the reality of the pensions deal on offer and its shortfall compared to other public-sector workers.
If, after this, there is a big vote against it, the union can demand the employers give at least what most other public-sector workers have got. Postal workers should vote to reject the attacks on pensions in the consultative ballot. But they will also need to put maximum pressure on the union leadership to lead a serious national fight.
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Article dated 4 March 2008
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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