Retired members told not to forget what the Tories did to pensioners
10th February 2010
Labour MP Geraldine Smith encouraged retired members to support the Labour Party at the next election while putting in a plea for more "ordinary people" to stand for Parliament.
Addressing the retired members conference, Geraldine warned that whatever the negativity surrounding the Labour Party, the vista of a new Conservative government was worse.
The Labour MP for Morecambe and Lunsdale recalled there was more grass roots trade union representation in Parliament when she was elected in 1997. "That has changed, we need positive discrimination for the working class in Parliament," said Geraldine, who praised Prime Minister Gordon Brown for taking the right decisions, like part nationalising the banks at the time of the economic crash.
She warned that a Conservative Government committed to making cuts would land the country back in recession. "We need to grow our way out of recession, not make cuts which is what you will get with the Conservatives," said Geraldine, who warned a Tory government would bring a repeat of the 1980s with attacks on public spending and the public sector.
General Secretary Billy Hayes also picked up the theme of how much worse life would be for pensioners and trade unionists under the Tories.
Billy highlighted how those in the media set on delivering David Cameron to 10 Downing Street had sought to blame the Labour Government for the actions of the banks and the results of neo-liberal policies. "The banks were so deregulated no one knew what they were doing. The financial crash brought down the whole economy into recession," said Billy, who reiterated that although Gross Domestic Product had reduced by five per cent over the last 12 months and tax receipts had plummeted the actions of the government had avoided a much worse crisis. "Only renewed investment will take the economy out of recession," said Billy, who attacked the failure to make the bankers pay whilst freezing pensions.
The GS argued that if the government needed to find money for pensioners then it should scrap some of its wasteful projects like the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme and ID cards. "Make no mistake though the Tories will cut services and attack pensions," said Billy.
The GS welcomed the manifesto of the National Pensioners Convention, calling for the pension to be raised above poverty levels and for the winter fuel allowance to rise to £500.
During debate, there was an impassioned plea from Kathy Leech of Scotland Number 1 in defiance of government proposals to change the state pension to a means tested benefit.
Kathy argued the pension was not a benefit, it was something everyone contributed to through via national insurance. "The state pension in the UK is one of the lowest in Europe, £160 odd below the minimum wage," said Kathy, who warned that pensioners had votes and would remember such moves come the election.
Ernie Purkis for the Retired Members Advisory Committee (RMAC) declared "means testing is curse on our society."
"Means testing in health shouldn't be there - the NPC has fought against it for 30 years," said Ernie. The motion will now go forward to general conference.
There were calls for a minimum £165 a week level for the pension with currently two million pensioners living below the poverty line.
It was argued that the UK had the fourth highest level of pensioner poverty in the EU despite being one of the richest nations.
Women are hit particularly hard with 87 per cent not getting the full pension.
Jan Zablocki argued that the CWU could not keep giving money to the Labour Party and getting nothing back. He pointed out that the level of trade union membership at 6 million was the same as in 1910. "We have to start doing something about this, as we are on the slipper slope to death. Let's have something back for the money we put into politics," said Jan.
Care concerns for pensioners were raised in a motion that passed calling for all pensioners to have access to free homecare, for pensioners who are carers to receive the full carers allowance and that all UK pensioners have equal access to all treatments and benefits available on the NHS.
A further motion was passed calling for the setting up of a new body titled the Society for the Protection of Care of Older People with the power to enter hospitals, nursing and care homes unannounced to examine what is going on. This will also go forward to general conference.
Another motion passed clearly anticipating pressure to cut pensioner benefits, called for safeguarding of the introduction of the scheme providing concessionery bus fares for the over 60s.
Rod Daniels of South East Number 5 urged members to "go to council forums and get involved" to ensure that these type of benefits are safeguarded.
Debate followed urging CWU branches to affiliate to the NPC at regional and branch level. A motion aimed at imposing a 1p per week levy on CWU membership to raise funds for the NPC was defeated.
Another motion calling for the Link magazine to be sent to all members over 55 was also defeated after Tony Kearns, the senior deputy general secretary, made a forcible argument outlining the parlace state of union finances and the ineffectual nature of such an approach to recruiting retired members.
General Secretary of the NPC Dot Gibson retold the story serialised on Radio 4 of Dear Granny Smith. The book tells how the job of postal worker has changed for the worse over the years.
Dot called for everyone present to joining the demonstration, Defending the Welfare State and Public Services on April 10. "We'll lead the fight and together we can make this into a massive event," said Dot.
Tony Kearns spoke of his pride in working for the retired members. He outlined the problems that the CWU faces with more than 50 per cent of members over 45. Just 21,000 members are under 30. "To just standstill we need to recruit 32 to 33,000 members a year," said Tony.
"We have to regenerate this union, if that means dismantling and rebuilding it that is what we must do. We accept the need to redesign the union at top and local level."