Labour divided on pension-plan strike action


By G.A.Ponsonby

The Labour party in Scotland is at odds with its leader in England over how to react to next week’s national public sector strike against the UK coalition’s pension plans.

Just one week after the Holyrood Labour group called on Scottish MSPs to refuse to turn up for work on the day of the strike, their UK leader Ed Miliband has insisted that Labour politicians should carry out their democratically elected responsibilities.

Mr Miliband, questioned on Channel Four news, said: “My position is very clear I don’t back strikes, that’s not the role of political leaders …”

Asked if he would visit the workers taking part in the day of action the Labour leader answered: “… no I’m not planning to do that I’ll be in the House of Commons asking Prime Ministers Questions which is where I should be.”

Mr Miliband’s insistence that opposition leaders should be in their elected chambers arguing against the UK government’s pension plans contrasts sharply with the Labour group in Scotland who last week called on MSPs to boycott the Holyrood proceedings for the day.

Last week Paul Martin, son of former Commons Speaker – and now Labour Lord – Michael Martin, said that all MSPs should “join the labour movement” and refuse to attend parliamentary business that day.

Mr Martin had sought to oppose a motion, planned for the day of the strike, aimed at formally condemning the UK government’s plans to increase pension contributions from public sector workers.

Labour’s three contenders for the soon to be vacated role of leader of the party in Scotland have all decided to refuse to attend Holyrood for the day.

SNP MSP for Cunninghame North Kenneth Gibson responded to the confusion and insisted that Scottish Labour had to clarify its position instead of trying to ‘curry favour’ with their union backers.

Mr Gibson said:

“Ed Miliband says it is not the role of political leaders to support strikes, but the three candidates for leadership in Scotland are all abandoning parliament and backing the strikes as part of their pitch for union votes in the leadership contest.

“The SNP fully supports the aims of those taking action to end the naked cash grab on public sector pay under the pretence of pension reform, but as Ed Miliband says it is the job of politicians to debate that issue in Parliament.”

The SNP MSP accused Labour of being “all over the place” and insisted that the party’s leadership contenders should join the Scottish government to send a “strong message” to Westminster.

Mr Gibson added:

“Labour MSPs had no problem attending parliament during previous strikes and Scottish Labour MPs are going to [the Westminster] Parliament and even leading debates on the 30th November, yet Labour MSPs are so desperate to win union support in a leadership contest they are abandoning their duties.

“This is utter hypocrisy.  The day of action is about a policy being introduced by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition and being forced on the Scottish people, Scottish parliament and Scottish Government.

“It is the job of the Scottish Parliament to stand up to Westminster, to use our parliament to speak for Scotland’s public sector workers and to send a strong message that the coalition’s pension reforms are unacceptable.”

A UK national strike will be held on 30th November, St Andrew’s day, and is expected to involve over two million public sector workers.  The protest is a result of Tory/Lib Dem plans to increase the pension contribution payments of public sector workers.

The Scottish Government has argued against introducing the policy in the midst of an economic downturn.  However Lib Dem UK Treasury Chief Danny Alexander warned the SNP that the Scottish block grant would be significantly reduced if they refused to implement the changes on schedule.