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The BBC's Jon Pienaar
"The word is the unions are being helpful and constructive"
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The BBC's Carole Walker
"The main unions involved insist the motion they agreed last night will stand"
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banner Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Labour faces pensions rebellion
Barbara Castle
Dame Barbara Castle argued for the motion
The Labour leadership faces an embarrassing revolt over its pensions policy, after a union leader forged ahead to force a vote which ministers had tried to halt.

Rodney Bickerstaffe pushed the issue of restoring the link between the state pension and earnings to a vote at the party conference in Brighton.

Pensioners have not blocked the oil refineries, they have not threatened the public services

Rodney Bickerstaffe
Mr Bickerstaffe, who leads Unison, made his controversial move after hurried series of behind-the-scenes meetings, in which the leadership tried to head off a revolt.

Despite pleas directly from Chancellor Gordon Brown, he refused to withdraw to the motion telling conference delegates that restoring the link was a his union's policy. It was not about being left-wing or pig-headed, he said.

Mr Brown had urged him to back down and withdraw the motion, shortly before the conference debate.

One union leader said afterwards the chancellor had "read them the riot act".

Darling's appeal

But although union and constituency representatives voted finally in favour of withdrawing their motion, Mr Bickerstaffe refused to agree to this, and left the meeting vowing to force the issue to a vote.

The Labour leadership now faces prospect of a defeat on the issue.

Rodney Bickerstaffe
Rodney Bickerstaffe is under pressure from both sides
Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling told delegates: "The proposals we put before you today mean that we can do more, much more, than an earnings link for Britain's poorest pensioners - more for millions of pensioners on modest incomes than a flat-rate earnings link could ever do."

Mr Darling said the government's own proposals would mean "more, much more" than restoring the earnings link for Britain's poorest pensioners.

"We will do more not just for one year but in each of the years, every year, for the benefit of all pensioners," he said.

He went on: "We must be the first government that abolishes pensioner poverty, once and for all.

"We must be the government that ensures that all pensioners share in rising prosperity."

And Mr Darling pledged that funds would be made available for "transitional arrangements" in the pre-Budget report.

He also confirmed the government would raise the minimum income guarantee for pensioners to 90 a week.

A host of delegates, including veteran former cabinet member Barbara Castle, gave passionate speeches for and against the government's position.

'Elderly deserve better'

Mr Bickerstaffe told delegates that supporting the earnings link was not a rant from the extreme left.

We can do more, much more, than an earnings link for Britain's poorest pensioners

Alistair Darling
"Pensioners have put their faith in the basic state pension and they believe the earnings link is the only way of protecting the basic state pension across the board," he said.

He asked Mr Darling how the government intended to ensure that the basic state pension did not become devalued over time.

The elderly deserved better from the government, he said.

"The pensioners have not blocked the oil refineries, they have not threatened the public services."

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