Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made it clear that what was at stake was a matter of fairness and equality writes John Haylett in the Morning Star.

"Private-sector workers have already seen their final-salary pension schemes close while returns from defined contribution schemes fall," he said.

"So can we really ask them to keep paying their taxes into unreformed gold-plated public-sector pension pots? It is not just not fair, it's unaffordable," he added.

What Clegg didn't do in his phoney appeal for fairness was to condemn private-sector employers for cutting costs by ditching existing final-salary schemes in favour of defined contribution schemes.

Nor did he explain how private-sector workers' pensions would be improved by any worsening of the pensions of those working in the public sector.

He was simply engaged in a squalid campaign to pit workers against each other rather than see them unite to defend their jobs and pensions and improve their pay and conditions.

Far from batting for private-sector workers, he was firmly on the side of the bankers and the City - the very forces responsible for sparking the current capitalist recession who are steadfast in their determination not to make any contribution toward paying for it.

Clegg was supported by the supposedly "independent" Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), headed by Alan Budd. Budd's relationship with David Cameron goes back to when they both worked as advisers to former Tory chancellor Norman Lamont when Britain was bounced out of the European exchange rate mechanism in 1992 despite his imposition of grotesquely inflated interest rates.

According to the OBR, spending on public-sector pensions will more than double from £4 billion annually to £9bn by 2014-15.

However, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis explained that pension costs are rising at present because of the stock market collapse. He accused the government of not looking at the situation over a long enough time scale.

"Over a 20-year period, costs are not going up. We have taken measures already to control public service pension schemes.

"These figures are put there to build up an aura for cuts and it's not the true story," he said.

Other unions were equally incensed by the government's attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the public with regard to public-sector pensions.

Brian Strutton of the GMB pointed out that the OBR figures cover the so-called "pay-as-you-go" schemes and exclude the strongly positive cash flow of the local government pension scheme.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail highlighted the irony of the Liberal Democrats "mounting a right-wing campaign to decimate retirement incomes" a century after a Liberal government first introduced the state pension.

This government is not alone in attacking working people's pensions. The outgoing Labour administration pushed up the age at which the state pension is payable to 66 from 2024, 67 from 2034 and 68 in 2044.

France has just decreed a two-year increase, although this will still only bring the age at which the state pension is payable to 62.

Greece will raise the current retirement age of 65 for men and 60 for women, it will increase the current pay-in qualification from 37 years to 40 and it will be based on an average annual salary rather than the last, and generally highest, received.

This is on top of a 15 per cent wage cut for public-sector workers, a wage freeze until 2014 and abolition of the traditional 13th and 14th month payments, except for the lowest-paid.

Spanish civil servants went on strike on June 8 in protest at "Socialist" Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero's plan to cut €15bn from state spending by freezing the state pension and cutting their pay.

Italian public-service workers face a three-year pay freeze and a six-month delay in payment of their pensions.

Other EU states have recognised a financial crisis and simultaneously identified the means of tackling it - a full-frontal assault on working people's living standards, with those in the public services taking the first hit.

In fact, most workers in the private sector have already endured an effective pay freeze in the past year, although "the good times have returned to UK boardrooms," according to the Incomes Data Services, which has recorded a 22.5 per cent increase in bonuses for FTSE 100 board members, as well as a 7 per cent salary rise, in the past six months.

The evidence is incontrovertible. What is taking place across Europe, under cover of rhetoric about tackling the financial crisis caused by bailing out the private banking system, is a systematic smash-and-grab raid on workers' living standards.

Just as it is difficult to insert a fag paper between the approach of EU governments of nominally left or right etiquettes, so the difference between the Con-Dem conspiracy and the new Labour leadership front-runners is largely presentational.

Their shared preoccupation with sparing the rich while spearing the poor can only be shattered by demands for a change of direction, backed up by united mass action, including strikes, by working-class communities.

That is the challenge facing the trade union movement. Failure to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the bankers' parliamentary lackeys will bring lower living standards and a crisis of working-class confidence.