TA(TA) for Nothing!

Tiny minority damages thousands of people’s lives in UK – again

On 15 February, the Community, Unite and GMB unions announced the results of a ballot of members employed by Tata Steel on the union recommendation to support an end to the final salary (or defined benefit) pension scheme. Three-quarters of those voting agreed with the recommendation. In effect, they were intimidated by the employers’ threats of job losses.

Understandably, when they were interviewed on the box, officials and lay members of all three unions talked about how hard that decision had been, as many must surely have realised they were being forced to surrender a benefit to which they have contributed over several decades, more or less ensuring a reduction in their whole-lifetime wages.

We sympathise with the dilemma our fellow unionists faced. Plant closures would have devastating effects on workers in the areas where Tata operates, as those of us who live in former textiles, shipbuilding and mining areas can testify.

We wonder if they got any comfort from this gem on the Tata website:

‘The notion of social stewardship, integral to the way business is conducted at Tata Steel, together with a continual improvement philosophy has been driving the Company’s excellence orientation for over a hundred years!’

Anyone idiot enough to fall for such nonsense? Like any other capitalist grouping, Tata is there to extract as much profit as possible, and it will bear down on conditions of employment whenever they are able to get away it. The Tata defeat is indicative of the erosion of workers’ conditions. We are now to be forced to work longer (later retirement age), many are stuck with zero-hours contracts or forced to work for nowt (so called interns) or in the cool-sounding ‘gig economy’ (no paid leave, no guarantee of earnings, no sick pay, no union representation, reduced safety – it’s what building workers used to call ‘the lump’, and doesn’t sound quite so cool, does it?)

Coincidentally, within a week of the union decision, the government announced a consultation with industry and ‘consumers’ because many company pension schemes have shortfalls in their funds because ‘Increased life expectancy, changes to working patterns and the economy mean that defined benefit schemes are operating in very different circumstances from when they first became popular’.

So, in part, you’re to blame, for living longer. No mention, by the way, of the fact that when pension funds were in surplus in the 1980s, employers were quick to take a ‘contributions holiday’, despite pressure from unions. In other words, the owners did what they always do – they kept hold of as much as they could for themselves.

It now seems highly likely that changes will be made to make it easier for companies to reduce benefits to pensioners.

And one more thing: measure it how you wish, over the last 100, 50 or even 20 years, there have been enormous increases in productivity in any field we could mention, be it transport, textiles, engineering, food production, whatever…And yet….despite the huge potential for wealth and comfort, we workers are faced with having our working lives forcibly extended, we can achieve no lasting economic security and, with increasingly inadequate social care, can’t even be sure of a dignified old age. 

We have always argued that, our class, working on a shop-floor, building site, in an office or in a field, must organise and maintain democratic trade unions. As wage slaves, we have to defend ourselves as best we can via unionisation, and this includes the issue of pensions. But any advances we can force out of the employers are always threatened whenever capitalism hits one of its inevitable crises of production, or whenever a cheaper source of labour power can be found. The only way for us to guarantee our future is to call time on this system – put the tiny minority out of business and bring an end to out-dated capitalism and its anti-worker practices.


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