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“The fight of our lives” UNISON General Secretary speech on Pensions to the TUC

Speaking at TUC conference in London on Wednesday 14 September, UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said that the union will send notice to 9,000 employers that it will ballot its 1.1 million members for industrial action over pensions.

Dave Prentis said: “UNISON represents one million public services workers and the campaigns we are fighting aren’t just about pensions. They aren’t just about jobs and pay, they are about the kind of society we leave to our children. They’re about protecting and passing on the rights our grandparents fought for the welfare state, universal public services. They’re about breaking a political consensus that says the market know best.

We stand for ordinary people serving the public. “Caring, educating, making our communities safer, cleaner, healthier. Ordinary people who had nothing to do with this financial crisis yet now being made to pay the price. A Coalition taking away their pay, privatising their jobs. Daily rounds of redundancies. And yet on top of all this. They now want to take away our pensions, the pensions our members worked for. The pensions our members saved for. Every week of their working lives. Not for a life of luxury. But for some basic security in retirement. Putting away a little each week for dignity so they didn’t have to rely on benefits in old age.

“No gold plated pension, just enough to get by. Congress, our members are not militants. Striking is the last thing they want to do. And no – we didn’t ask for this conflict. We’ve spent 8 months looking for agreement. Always willing to talk. To modernise the schemes, to be realistic. It’s been less than four years ago that we agreed to close our health pension scheme to new members. New schemes brought in recognising that people were living longer – we did it. A new local government scheme capable of investing £3 billion pounds a year in our economy- because it is cash rich.. we did that…

“But now not satisfied with that, this Coalition wants its pound of flesh. They are intent on re-opening the protected schemes. Demanding hundreds and thousands of workers, mainly women, work 6 even 11 years longer to get their pension. They are intent on closing new schemes just coming in, the ink barely dry. Yet bringing in new “new schemes” with far worse benefits. They are intent on stopping our members who are privatised taking their pensions with them. Cut off completely from their pension scheme. Locked out.

“And to add insult to injury. They are intent on imposing a tax on all public service workers who save for their pensions. A staggering 50% increase in their contributions. But Congress – not a single penny to go into the schemes. All of it – every single penny to be syphoned off by the Treasury to pay for the deficit created by the failure of the banking system.

“An unprecedented attack on ordinary working people. An audacious and devious means to pay for the greed of others. So Congress we’ve had enough… We’ve been patient, we’ve co-operated. But there comes a time when we say enough is enough. Because if we don’t they’ll be back for more… and more and more…

“So today… Congress, I want to make it clear to this coalition that we will negotiate any time, anyplace, anywhere but if they impose change by dictat, we will take industrial action. And today Brendan Barber has convened a meeting of all public service unions to look at united co-ordinated industrial action if those talks fail. And in moving to industrial action I commit UNISON to work as one with out sister unions the GMB and UNITE. And today as General Secretary of UNISON I give formal notice to 9,000 employers that we are balloting for industrial action.

“A ballot unprecedented in scale will cover over a million workers in health, local government, school, FE, higher education, police, the voluntary sector and the environment and the private sector. It’s a decision we don’t take lightly. And the stakes are high. Higher than ever before. But Congress of one thing I’m certain. Now is the time to make our stand. And it will be hard. We’ll be vilified, attacked. Set against each other. Public versus private, divide and rule. The oldest trick in the book. But if we’re serious. We must stay strong, united. All of us shoulder to shoulder. No gesture politics ,no hollow rhetoric.

“Our members looks to us all to lead. To work together, To run the public and political campaigns needed to win their case. It’s crucial. And we’ll accept none of the emotional blackmail from politicians of any colour. If this coalition is so worried about the people who use our services. They shouldn’t be closing them down. If they’re so worried about disruption. They shouldn’t be privatising them. If they’re so worried about the old, the sick or the young. Stop shutting down care homes and start getting our young people into work and giving them a future.

“So Congress. The fight of our lives may be an overused cliché. But make no mistake Congress – THIS IS IT…

“We will take the fight to them. Congress this is no time for despair. No time to look back. Let us go forward. Confidant in our cause. A clear message from this Congress. We are determined. We are united. We are determined. Fighting for what is right. Fighting for our members.

“HANDS OFF OUR PENSIONS.”

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