Essex Pensioners Organise March and Rally
On Friday, July 28, Essex pensioners held a march and rally
in Southend. This action was called by the Essex region of British Pensioners
Trade Union Action Association (BPTUA). Around 100 pensioners started the
march, with banners from Southend, Basildon and Braintree branches, there were
also pensioners from Waltham Abbey and Chelmsford and other areas of the Essex
region. The pensioners were in fighting mood and very angry at their treatment
by the government. They carried posters such as "security with
dignity" and demanding justice for pensioners and for restoration of the
link of pensions to average earnings.
The pensioners and supporters formed up and moved off very
promptly at 10.00 am. Leaflets were given out on the way and slogans shouted.
There was much support for the march as it made its way for one and a half
miles to a community hall. There they were warmly greeted with claps and shouts
by another 150 pensioners.
The rally was opened by the secretary of the Essex region
and people stood for one minute in silence to commemorate the passing of Joe
Simmons, who was the chair of the Essex region and President of BPTUA, as well
as to commemorate other members who had died recently.
The first speaker was Alan Hurst, MP for Braintree. He said
there were many in the Labour Party who were behind the pensioners and there
were a number of MPs who want to see "proper, decent pensions" and
who voted against the 75p rise and that there was a "battle within the
Labour Party" over pensions. He then went on talk about the history of
pensions. He concluded by praising the government for providing free TV
licences for the over-75s and increase in fuel allowances for pensioners at
which there were calls from the floor of "we want a decent pension, not
Christine Butler, MP for Castle Point, was the next speaker
and she related stories from her family about the struggle for decent pensions
in the past. She talked about the recently introduced Minimum Income Guarantee
(MIG) which when income support was added to the pension made the weekly rate
for a single pensioner up to a paltry £78.50 this was greeted by
shouts of derision. She concluded with saying she would keep up pressure but it
helps if the pensioners are strong and united and invited them to come and
repeat their lobby of parliament.
The Chair of the rally then called for questions and
contributions. Those gathered there were very angry. They talked about many
issues including the need to unite with other people in struggle and about
closures of local authority residential homes, where people were just being
evicted without anywhere to go. On the MIG, one speaker said it cost £534m
to administer income support and that a strong message needed to be taken back
to Tony Blair to restore the link. A number of speakers pointed out that many
at the rally had paid into the National Insurance fund for 51 years and that
the fund could afford to pay them a decent pension NOW!
The Chair then called on Jack Sprung, General Secretary of
BPTUA, to address the rally. He began by explaining how the vagaries of the
market system could not guarantee a liveable pension. How, in a country as rich
as England, could 50,000 pensioners die of cold related diseases? He asked,
"How is it we are told that the economy cannot afford what we are asking
for, when big business men are spending £1.5m on watches and a room at the
Carlton Hotel in London costs £435 per night and thousands of people are
sleeping homeless in nearby parks". He asked if this is what Tony Blair
means by the "inclusive society"! He said that modernisation really
means the increasing dismantling and privatisation of NHS, benefit system and
social care. New legislation on housing benefit means many pensioners are to be
forced to move to smaller accommodation. He ended with the words that the
struggle of the pensioners must go on and that many think it is illegal to
break laws but the Tolpuddle Martyrs broke unjust laws and their example
should be followed. The link should be restored NOW, he concluded.
This speech was greeted fervently and there was some further
discussion from the floor about taking the demands and issues to more people.
The last speaker was from Help the Aged on their proposals for caring for older
people in the NHS. The rally ended and many people stayed to talk over the
issues raised and how to take things forward.