Pensioners' Parliament in Blackpool
The following report has been sent in to WDIE from a
pensioner who attended this years Pensioners Parliament in
Blackpool, which was held on May 9, 10 and 11. The Parliament was preceded by a
National Pensioners March.
On a bright, sunny day in May, something like 1,000 angry
pensioners, from all over Britain, assembled on the promenade at Blackpool.
Representing 10 million or more older people, and led by Jack Jones, former
general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, now
president of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), and accompanied by
other officers of the NPC, they marched with banners and placards flying to the
famous Winter Gardens Conference Centre where they joined with 2,000 others
filling the vast hall to capacity.
They were to have been addressed by Jeff Rooker MP, Minister
of State for Pensions. However, Mr Rooker was unable to attend because of a
3-line whip in the House of Commons. On the other hand, most if not all of the
assembled pensioners had not really come to hear him tell them the same old
sorry story, but for him to listen to them.
Consequently, after the Mayor of Blackpool had officially
welcomed the pensioners and opened the conference, Rodney Bickerstaffe, general
secretary of public sector union UNISON, addressed the Parliament.
Rodney Bickerstaffe, who has been widely tipped to take over
as leader of the NPC after he stands down at the end of the year, in his own
renowned and inimitable witty way, emphasised, to a huge round of applause,
that he was willing to take up the cudgels on behalf of older people.
The first debate of the three-day parliament on
Community Care was presented by Evelyn McKewan who said: "Community
Care is the Cinderella of the welfare state. Considerable public concern has
been shown about conditions in hospital and access to medical care and the NHS
gets more money and rightly so; the plight of people struggling to care at home
has received very little publicity. There are tens of thousands of vulnerable
older people who are unable to receive the services they need to live with
dignity independently in their own homes, and their spouses and children who
worry desperately about how they can cope and what the future will bring."
She said that Tony Blair has spoken that some elderly people
"are not shown the respect or given the comfort they deserve" when in
hospital. But she said, "We must show the public and the government, that
social services often deny this respect to elderly people at home. They deny it
frequently because the resources available are too limited to provide the help
that is needed. Too often people are turned away without help"
On the second day of the Parliament, Jeff Rooker did address
the assembly. But he received a slow handclap from delegates because he claimed
that the government was improving pensions. Instead the Parliament backed the
action of the London and South-East Pensioners day of action on May 17
for the demand for a substantial rise in the basic pension and the restoration
of the link of pensions to earnings. The Parliament also called for a national
march to highlight the worsening conditions of Britains pensioners.
On Tuesday evening, a well-attended fringe meeting was
organised which was addressed by a number of activists in the pensioners
movement. Joe Simmons, President of the British Pensioners and Trade Union
Action Association, gave an address. He said New Labour was intent on
destroying the welfare state. It was not a question of where they are going but
where they are coming from, he said, and it sums up as the ruling classes
coming to power and managing to survive on the backs of the working class. He
asked, "Isnt it about time we started really going about getting
what should be, rather than saying what should be?" He called on the
National Pensioners Convention to lead and said that "the organised
pensioners movement has a unique opportunity to stimulate the rest of the
labour movement and to influence the move to a socialist society which would
considerably help ourselves as well as workers everywhere".
(The NPC day of Action starts at 1pm on Wednesday May 17
with a lobby outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, which is off
Parliament Square in London, followed by a demonstration between 1.45 and
2.30pm outside the Department of Social Security, Whitehall.)