“Today, as general secretary of UNISON, I give formal notice to 9,000 employers that we are balloting for action,” declared Dave Prentis when he opened the TUC debate on pensions this morning.
“And in moving to industrial action, I commit UNISON to work with our sister unions the GMB and UNITE.”
He described government plans for public service pensions as “an unprecedented attack on ordinary working people – an audacious and devious means to pay for the greed of others.”
The nature of the attack was clear he said: “They … 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.
“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.”
After eight months looking for agreement, of always being willing to talk about realistic modernisation to pensions schemes, said Mr Prentis: “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 …”
He warned that the union will ballot across its membership in “a ballot unprecedented in scale, which 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,” added Mr Prentis. “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 look to us all to lead, to work together, to run the public and political campaigns needed to win their case.”
The UNISON general secretary added that unions are still prepared to negotiate “any time, any place, anywhere”, but attempts to impose change by dictat would be met with industrial action.
Congress agreed a plan for a united and co-ordinated campaign to defend pension schemes and fight for fair pensions for all, in both the public and private sectors, in a debate that saw union after union, representing workers from all across the economy, line up to condemn the government’s attacks.
And union after union in the public sector announced plans to ballot members for industrial action, insisting they were prepared to seek agreement through negotiation to safeguard pensions, but the government was not.
“Congress, this is no time for despair,” concluded Mr Prenits, “no time to look back.
“Let us go forward, confident in our cause, with a clear message from this congress: ‘we are determined, we are united – fighting for what is right, fighting for our members: Hands off our pensions!’.”
After an unprecedented standing ovation, congress backed the motion unanimously.