Britain's employers were put on alert yesterday that employees were increasingly prepared to take industrial action to defend their pensions, now the single most important issue at work.
The moderate leader of Britain's 7 million trade unionists declared himself a "militant'' over pensions and backed strikes as a means of preventing cuts in payments. John Monks, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said he was engaged in a campaign to "wake up Britain'' to the fact that workers were being betrayed by employers and were now suffering a pensions crisis.
Roger Lyons, the joint leader of Amicus, a union for skilled manufacturing staff, said the TUC would be "drawing a line in the sand" on the issue. Speaking on the eve of the annual TUC conference in Blackpool, he said nine out 10 Amicus representatives would support strike action to defend pensions. "It is the single most important subject for people at work today,'' he said.
Mr Monks said that corporate Britain should be "hanging its head in shame'' on the issue. He added: "Some people like to divide trade unions into moderates and militants. Let me tell you, we're all militants when it comes to defending and advancing pension rights. Even decent employers have betrayed decades of trust as they give in to City pressure to scrap quality pensions.''
As militancy grew among unions, the Confederation of British Industry revealed that in a survey of 940 firms, 225 had already shut their final salary pension schemes, which guarantee retirement payments, and 113 were considering doing so. Experts have told the TUC that on average employees would need to save about 15 per cent of their salary all their working lives to provide a "decent" pension.
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