TRADE unions gathered in Huddersfield yesterday to send a firm message to the Government: "Hands off our pensions."
Public sector union members met at St Patrick's Catholic Centre, in Trinity Street, to hear speeches from representatives of the Fire Brigades' Union, the Public and Commercial Services Union and Unison.
The Trade Union Council backed the meeting as part of their national Day of Action to promote the battle to defend public sector workers' pensions.
The Government is planning widespread changes to the way pensions work to address what they call `a crisis in the system'.
Changes will mean having to work for longer and an increased minimum age of retirement. Prime Minister Tony Blair claims the reason for the changes is a shortfall in money available because the population is getting older.
Roger Grigg, assistant branch secretary of Kirklees Unison, told the 50-strong crowd at the meeting the time to fight was now.
"This is robbery of what we deserve and what is rightfully ours," he said.
"And we should not accept any temporary deal from the Government. If Labour get in at the election again any temporary deal will go out of the window."
A day of strike action is planned across the public sector for March 23.
PCS representative Stella Dennis claimed the real pension crisis was not a lack of money in the system but the fact that one in five pensioners lives in poverty. She also called on the Government to look to countries like Spain and France where they spend more than double the percentage of money on pensions than in the UK.
She said: "There is a significant gap between what the best in Europe spend on pensions and what we do - yet the Government tells us we have a crisis.
"The highest earners continue to get the highest pensions and it is those on lower pay in the public sector that suffer. The proposals here are no different."
Secretary of Huddersfield TUC Bob Stoker hailed the rally a success and said he thought the workers were in a strong position.
"Before an election the Government is at its weakest and that is why we have to take action sooner rather than later.
"If the five unions considering action record a yes vote, up to 1.5m people could strike. That will cause a big problem for the Government," he said.