Eamonn McCann - Join Derry’s march against pension cuts

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The Daily Mail has still not recovered from the vote of the National Association of Head Teachers to join classroom assistants, admin staff, dinner ladies etc. in the one-day strike tomorrow week against the planned cuts in pensions.

The strike will be marked in Derry by a march from Altnagelvin to Guildhall Square at noon organised by the NI Public Sector Alliance and a Trades Council rally in Guildhall Square at 1pm. The fact that head teachers are coming out is an indication of the depth of the anger across the public sector.

Head teachers used to be the epitome of moderation and respectability, moaned the Daily Mail. But now they have become “the Scargills of the school rooms”. The Mail seem to believe that this designation would be damaging to the teachers’ reputations. Strange.

Admittedly, the Tory-Lib Dem Government has had some success on the pensions issue, managing to convince significant numbers that public sector pensions are “gold-plated” and a burden on tax-payers generally.

Under the Tory proposals - passed on by the Executive without a whimper of complaint a couple of weeks back - a teacher earning £21,000 will have to pay an extra £732 a year - £61 a month - in contributions. If the same teacher works on for 36 years and retires on a salary of £41,000, he or she will find their pension entitlement slashed from £18,000 to £13,000.

A part-time nurse on £17,000 would have to come up with an extra £100 a month.

How are public sector workers, many rearing families, expected to find this sort of money when they are already subjected to a three-year pay freeze - which, with annual inflation heading for five percent, amounts to a huge wage cut – and are confronted with soaring food and fuel prices as well?

The average public-sector pension is under £5,000 a year.


The truth is that, contrary to the relentless propaganda, there is no pensions crisis. The money is there. Indeed, because of the different ways national systems have developed, there is more money in UK pension funds than in the combined funds of the Eurozone countries.

This year, more than £20 billion will be spent on tax relief on contributions. Of this, more than half, £11 billion, will go to the top 10 percent of taxpayers. If even half of that went into the State system, it would be enough to bring the basic State pension up to £110 a week.

Or take national insurance. Contributions are set at 11 percent for salaries between £4,888 and £32,760, then one percent on pay above that figure. If you are earning a million a year, you’ll have to cough up £12,800.

But if you were paying at the same rate as the vast majority on all of your earnings, that figure would rise to £110,000. A lot of money, right enough. But if you are on a million a year you can afford it a lot more comfortably than the nurse who has to come up with a hundred extra a month.

Not only would this be fairer, it would raise an extra £10 billion a year.

But that’s seen by the elite as utterly unthinkable. Not only would the people they associate with foam with outrage, the cream of British entrepreneurial talent would take their unique managerial gifts elsewhere.

Would they indeed? And in what way would we miss them? These are the people who have been running the show throughout the period of slowdown, recession and the slide towards national bankruptcy. I sometimes get to thinking that our dog could do better, and we don’t even have a dog.

Put it in your diary or just lodge it in your mind now: Trades Council rally a week from tomorrow, Guildhall Square at one.

If thousands show, and commensurate crowds turn out at the hundreds (literally) of similar gatherings across the UK, we will have shown, most importantly to ourselves, that we can win this one.

Read more from Eamonn McCann in the Journal every Tuesday