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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 November 2006

Fighting civil service job cuts

Vote 'yes' for national strike action

THE PCS National Executive Committee (NEC) has agreed to organise a national industrial action ballot in the new year as part of the campaign against job cuts and the imposition of below-inflation pay deals on civil service workers.

Mark Baker, PCS NEC, personal capacity

Gordon Brown's statement in June 2004 that he planned to cut over 100,000 civil service jobs and implement a series of so-called efficiency measures across the civil service has been met with a determined campaign from the left-led PCS NEC and general secretary.

National action in November 2004 forced the government to abandon plans to introduce unpaid sick leave and led to an agreement which compels all departments to take measures to avoid compulsory redundancies. Until this month it has done just that but the announcement of 27 compulsory redundancies in environment department DEFRA and the DTI show that the time is right to move to a further national ballot.

There have been a number of departmental campaigns, such as in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), where eleven days strike action have been taken against job cuts and efficiency measures. In the HMRC (revenue and customs) a campaign has been waged against "lean processing" an attempt to bring so-called total quality management techniques into the department.

These measures are not about making the service more efficient - 21 million calls to DWP contact centres are going unanswered and only 50% of calls to Jobcentre plus are being returned within 24 hours.

Meanwhile the estimated official 'error overpayment' amounts on state pension payments have trebled in the last two years since 30,000 DWP jobs have been cut. HMRC have announced that hundreds of its local offices are to be closed and a further 12,500 jobs axed on top of those that have already gone. Yet the Department, seeking to save 105 million through staff cuts, has spent 106 million on management consultants. Rather than making these public services more efficient, it is priming them for privatisation.

Members are increasingly angry that in addition to being expected to work harder with fewer resources, their pay is being held down by public-sector pay restraint statements from Brown.

Pay disputes loom in ten government departments who have been offered below-inflation increases for many members.

Unlike Brown, PCS can't just announce a national response to a national announcement.

Britain's anti-union laws mean that we have to inform over 200 different "employers" that we are balloting. In order to maintain a sustained campaign, which allows us to organise various forms of action across departments, members have to vote 'yes' to two questions in a national ballot.

This will look to start with a one-day strike on 31 January 2007 followed by a two-week overtime ban. This allows time for PCS departmental groups to organise for appropriate action in their own areas which support the national campaign.

Of course, PCS remain committed to trying to achieve a negotiated settlement and have spent the last two years demonstrating our commitment to that.

But it is now increasingly clear that the government, whether it be led by Blair or Brown, are not interested in the valuable public services our members provide.

We will be campaigning hard over the next few weeks to ask members to vote 'yes' to action in the New Year and endorsement of a positive campaign of action on basic industrial demands - no compulsory redundancies, no cuts in pay and conditions, staffing levels which can deliver a good-quality public service.

PCS, with its socialist leadership, is leading the way in the defence of its members' terms and conditions.

We are also approaching other unions to give what support they can but also to step up the joint union Public Services NOT Private Profit campaign.

A vigorous multi-union campaign can force the government to retreat as action on pensions showed last year.

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In The Socialist 29 November 2006:

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