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Dudley Edwards

Nothing Less Than a Living Wage!

(September 1976)

From Militant, No. 321, 10 September 1976, p. 3.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Pensioners’ rally at TUC annual meeting has now become a regular event. This year over 1,000 people marched through Brighton to demand a big increase in pensions.

However that such a march had to take place is a sad commentary on the failure of our Labour government after nearly three years in office to carry out the resolutions calling for older working men and women to receive an adequate income passed at TUC and Labour Party conferences over the last ten years.

The maximum old age state pension with supplementary benefits added (obtained only after a humiliating personal means test) comes to little more than one-third of the average wages paid to employed workers. This low income leads to the frequent hypothermia which carries off hundreds of the old and infirm each winter. The pension increases are always six to nine months too late and therefore never compensate for the enormous price increases which have repeatedly taken place in the case of gas and electricity etc.

Because of this, old people are constantly receiving fantastically high bills, often followed by threats to cut off all heat if they don’t pay up. The “kind” permission of the government to allow us to run into debt does not alter the fact that these demands still come and with some old and infirm people it has actually hastened their death.

These are the people whom the Labour government should have relieved of all financial worries by this time by providing all OAPs with a minimum income which everybody working, unemployed, old or sick should be entitled to as of right. That should be at least equivalent to a £50 a week gross wage. Why should a worker who reaches retirement age take a sudden drop in living standards just because he is older. He has earned the right to an adequate living in his last years.

And to be blunt how can Jack Jones and the other TUC leaders, who have campaigned so hard on the pensions question, effectively fight for a decent income for the elderly when they accept the spurious argument that the public expenditure cuts must be accepted to keep Labour in office. The truth is that the cuts will put Labour out of office and 50% of average earnings for pensioners will be stopped for another decade.

In my own borough, one of the richest in the country, after much pressure by the local Labour party and other we were granted “bus tokens” enabling a certain amount of local travel at reduced rates. At first these tokens amounted to 100 every quarter at 2p each. Then in the alleged interest of economy the Tory Council cut the number of tokens to 60. In the meantime fares have been increased four times, and if I wish to make a trip to the Labour Club to see a few friends over half a pint of beer the trip costs 26p return. Four trips and the total token allowance is gone!

On the face of it I can get a 50% reduction on train fares on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday only. If I wish to visit old comrades in Liverpool for instance this sounds reasonable until it is realised I must pay £6 for the rail pass.

At one time a pensioner wishing to raise a query with the local Social Security Office could phone from a call box and then give the number and the clerk would then phone back when the pensioner’s money had run out. Now this has been abolished – no reverse calls are allowed. This means the pensioner must either put more money in the phone box or got to the office over three miles on foot, or pay out more exorbitant bus fares.

The fight for a decent pension cannot be separated from the fight to reverse the public expenditure cuts, lower unemployment and raise weal wages in general. That requires a new strategy by the TUC leaders who spoke at the rally, based on the socialist aims of the labour movement that many old age pensioners who were present at the tally fought for in their years at work.

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Last updated: 27 August 2016