'Revolutionaries' endorse pensions sell-out

Members of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party have voted to surrender to the government's demand that new workers will have to work until 65. Peter Manson and Tony Reay (PCSU DWP London regional secretary, personal capacity) report

The executive of the Public and Commercial Services Union, meeting on October 21, has disgracefully backed general secretary Mark Serwotka and his negotiators on the government-union public services forum in accepting an extra five years' wage-slavery for future civil servants. In exchange for a (no doubt temporary) truce in the New Labour assault on pension rights for current members, including the right to retire on full pension at the age of 60, the Socialist Party-dominated PCSU leadership has surrendered to government demands that new entrants will have to work until 65. And, like the more traditional leaders of the other public service unions, these 'Marxists' had the effrontery to claim this sell-out as a 'victory'. Not only did the SP vote in favour of the climbdown, but the two members of the Socialist Workers Party on the EC also put up their hands in favour - just two days after Socialist Worker editor Chris Bambery had described the deal as "abject capitulation" on the SWP website (see Socialist Worker October 22). According to the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, the lone dissenting voice on the PCSU executive was AWL member John Moloney. The PCSU, with its clear left majority on just about every leading committee, should surely be giving a fighting lead. Yet of the 13 unions involved in the pensions stitch-up only the GMB has declined to endorse it - so far. Its public services national secretary, Brian Sutton, had the honesty to admit that the other unions had conceded "worse terms" for all future members in accepting "two-tier pensions". PCSU members will be justified in asking what point there is in electing self-proclaimed revolutionary socialists, when they end up behaving in exactly the same way as the other labour bureaucrats - whether of the left, right or centre. London demands action The campaign, led by Socialist Caucus supporters, for jobs and services in the PCSU London region has resulted in a successful ballot for strike action in the department for work and pensions (DWP). Members voted by nearly three to one for a programme of discontinuous strike action. The prompted further talks with DWP Jobcentre Plus management, secured after Mark Serwotka intervened with secretary of state David Blunkett. However, the talks did not go well and culminated in Jobcentre Plus telling the union it would not deviate from its 'head count target' of job cuts in London - or anywhere else in the country for that matter. The employer offered a 'no compulsory redundancy' deal for London until March 2006, provided the union would not take strike action in London or elsewhere. This at least was rejected "out of hand" by the national union negotiators. After the meetings, Jobcentre Plus wrote to the PCSU to confirm its position on staffing in London and for the rest of the country: regardless of the effects on service delivery (people unable to get through to call centres, waiting weeks, if not months, for benefit payments, etc) the cuts would be implemented. On October 18, to add insult to injury, a decision on the future of Harrow call centre - which London Region PCSU had argued should remain open to provide much needed work for around 100 'surplus' staff and additional interpretation for London claimants whose first language is not English - was deferred. After months of pressure at meetings with the employer, detailed written submissions, active membership lobbying of MPs and solid indicative votes for industrial action in Harrow itself, management has decided a full 'business case' is needed before any decision can be made. The Socialist Party-led DWP group executive committee (GEC) has now accepted that London has shown the way and a national campaign against job cuts and for services across the DWP is essential. I very much welcome this and believe that, even though 15,000 jobs have already been lost, the union can be successful if it fights. The PCSU has agreed a four-week suspension of action to see if there is any scope for a negotiated solution - bizarrely some SP members on the GEC felt that the language in management's letter was positive and encouraging. The group executive will also be using the time to consult with members and reps to gauge support for a national ballot. The GEC convenes again on November 9 to decide whether to ballot the entire DWP membership on a programme of national industrial action and whether to activate the ballot result in London. I believe that the GEC should do both, as strike action in London can only enthuse members elsewhere to vote for action. What PCSU cannot do is allow another mandate for industrial action to lapse. We hope for some positive results at the GEC, but recognise that if the current PCSU leaders can casually sell out entire generations of future workers over their retirement age, dumping a strike ballot in London will not concern them too much. Tony Reay PCSU DWP London regional secretary (personal capacity)