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Dudley Edwards

Pensions: Act Now

(March 1975)

From Militant, No. 239, 14 March 1975, p. 3.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Long speeches are at present being made in Parliament and the House of Lords about the respective merits of long term pensions. Tory Peers, some in bath chairs – even Monday Club MP’s have the cheek to move ‘radical’ amendments to Barbara Castle’s pension plan, amendments which they opposed when in office! The real issue facing millions of workers over 60 is meanwhile being ignored!

The main reason that Labour’s future plan could be regarded as preferable to the proposals of Tory Sir Keith Joseph is that with the Labour scheme, a better pension will possibly mature in 20 years. Under the Tory one it would be 44 years before any aged worker would get a penny of the increased insurance payments he or she pays in to the Government!

The really vital question which all working class organisations should be raising now, is, what is to be done for the pensioners, the disabled, the widows over 55, now in 1975, not in 20 or 40 years time!

Few other sections of the population over the last two years has received no threshold payments of any kind. Last summer’s increase of pension to £10 and £16 was wiped out by inflation even while most Labour leaders were making it a main point in their election propaganda. The further £2 now due will hardly be noticed with the cost of living rising at an annual rate of at least 20%.

Many Parliamentary candidates, at the last elections, were fond of saying that the test of a civilization is how it treats its old people and children. What does this mean today?

Barbara Castle’s long term pension plan suggests that 50% of the average national minimum wage is the minimum required to secure an even tolerable standard for old people. (This is still less than many capitalist countries in Western Europe).

At this level , any aged working man or woman should be receiving at least £1,500 p.a., still a very small amount, especially in the light of the £420,000 extra state dole paid out to just one royal person, already a millionaire. Today, incredibly, millions of old people receive pensions of less than 15% of their previous wages. The purchasing power of this 15% declines every time they visit a food shop.

In 1973, the Labour Party Conference passed unanimously a resolution promising a very different deal for those who have worked in industry all their lives creating great wealth which is still in the hands of a handful of monopolies.

Only the first half of this resolution has been acted on by the Labour Government. It would therefore be well to quote the second and most important part. The resolution was moved by the TGWU. The second paragraph demanded the following:

“Conference emphasises this immediate demand [the increases to £10 and £16] must be regarded as only a first step towards ensuring that retirement pensions provide a proper standard of living related to average earnings and to increases in retail prices, by annual and quarterly reviews.”

Had the resolution been carried out, many thousands of working people over 65 would have been spared the grievous experience of seeing their small life savings slowly whittled away because their existing pension is not enough to meet the daily increasing cost of keeping alive.

With further huge increases, apart from food, now imminent, like gas, electricity, rate and probably rent, it is now vital that the full Labour Party resolution quoted above by implemented by the Labour Government now.

Not only old age pensioners but all workers unable to work through disablement, sickness, mental illness etc. should be paid a living wage. In a civilised society responsibility for this should be taken by society as a whole. Huge insurance companies should therefore be nationalised and their employees absorbed into comprehensive state social security organisation.

To ‘take pensions out of politics’ as Barbara Castle suggests cannot be done in this class divided society. Only when Labour carries through a socialist plan to take over all the economic resources of the country will real security for the older people be guaranteed once and for all. Such security is impossible in the increasing chaos of capitalism.

Right now the trade unions must mobilise all their strength to see that Labour’s conference decision is carried out. We have already waited too long!

On March 12th the National Trade Union and Old Age Pensioners Action Committee called a demonstration in London. For the aims outlined to be met, it will need the full mobilisation of all sections of the movement on such demonstrations and in a great campaign to ensure the Labour Government take all steps needed to meet this part of their ‘Social Contract!’

The writer of this article was a delegate to the 1973 Labour Party Conference and spoke in support of the resolution passed at that conference.

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Last updated: 3 June 2016