Barry Biddulph comments on the GMB union’s announcement on the Government’s pensions deal
The GMB’s national secretary for public services, Brian Strutton, has signed up to the TUC-approved Government pensions offer, which surrenders to the government on all the core issues of the pensions fight: working far longer, paying far more and getting far less. There has been no change in the offer in the key areas. Final-salary schemes will be replaced by a career average which will result in huge losses, particularly for women with irregular employment history. Unison leader, Dave Prentis, long seen by Cameron as someone he could do business with, recommended the deal which breaks with the momentum of strike action and solidarity against the Coalition.
Brian Strutton failed to inform GMB members that he had capitulated to the Government’s threat to impose a worse settlement than the one on offer. In an email to members he presented the deal, which undermines future action against the Government, as some kind of victory. What has been agreed is a ‘process’, he explained. What will be negotiated in this process? Well, he was unable to say. The details would be determined in the process. In other words, in return for suspending strike action, the Government has agreed to talks on their terms.
Brian Strutton could not allow this reality into his discourse. So he claimed that what had been won was… recognition by the Government that contributions to the pension schemes had to be affordable for members. He presented no evidence of a change of heart and mind by the Government. Is this Government not the same one which has led the assault on jobs and living conditions to make workers pay for the capitalist crisis? Is it the same government Brian Strutton described in October 2011 as intransigent for refusing meaningful negotiations throughout discussions?
The truth is Brian Strutton places more confidence in the Government to come up with trivial concessions on the speed of the changes and modest changes to accrual rates, than any kind of class struggle against the Government, and the state, to win a battle on the core issues of the pensions strike. The response of union leaders, such as Dave Prentis, exposes the illusions of many on the left in trade unionism. The call for a general strike or ‘all out stay out’ are fantasy without a social and political challenge to the government and capitalism. Pension schemes are based on investments in capitalism and its stability. The economic crisis means the present schemes are unaffordable for capital. A trade unionist ‘better, fairer capitalism’ is a utopia. The assault on the working class can not be stopped by a trade union pensions dispute alone. The struggle has to be generalised in the context of an alternative to capitalism.