Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/525/3899
Anger and strength in the DWP workplaces
DWP members strike on 17 - 18 march 2008
ON 17 and 18 March, members of the civil service union PCS in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)were on strike for the second time against the imposition of a three year pay offer. Under this deal, 40% of staff would receive 0% - nothing - this year. And the lowest paid workers get increases taking their pay to just 24p an hour above the minimum wage.
Not surprisingly, this has led to a level of anger and a level of support that was at least as strong as during the two-day strike in December. We print below reports from PCS picket lines around Britain.
'We have no option but to strike'
AT SUNDERLAND Job Centre, Marie Donough described conditions in the workplace as 'dire'. Neil Todner, PCS branch chair (speaking in a personal capacity), agreed and explained that "our members want to support and help customers. However, we're given only a matter of minutes - which means not only is the service poor quality, but it goes against the government's own welfare reform agenda."
Marie Donough described Wear House as a "very unhappy building, where workers are being hammered". And because work is being transferred from all over the country, "Work/life balance is thrown out of the window. Workers who want to reduce their hours to part-time are told 'No'.
"Anyone going back to work after maternity leave hasn't got a chance. In the past, if someone retired they would be allowed back part-time. Now they are told, 'full-time or nothing'."
At Wear View House (Benefits Delivery Centre of Job Centre Plus) picket line strikers explained that this was the second largest delivery centre in the country, and that work was being transferred here from around the country.
Christine Oliver (site rep - personal capacity) said the response to the strike was '"fantastic - around 500 staff have solidly supported the strike".
Christine said that: "For workers, strike action is a last resort - but we have no other option." She had been a union activist all her life. At one time you had to patiently explain why a strike was necessary. However, this time, "When I was leafleting for strike action workers were shouting at me 'Yes we'll definitely be out!'"
Merthyr - this 'deal' is unacceptable
THOUSANDS OF civil servants working for the DWP were on strike across Wales as part of the national two-day strike against the government's pay freeze. On a Merthyr picket line, Dave Reid spoke to Aidan Price, secretary of Eastern Valley DWP branch PCS:
"PEOPLE ARE really angry about this; it's not a fair pay deal. 40% of our members in DWP would get 1% this year and effectively nothing for two years of this three-year pay deal. That's not acceptable.
"The government has also decided to go 5% above the recommended civil service cuts for the next three years so we're looking at 12,000 further redundancies within DWP. That is bound to increase the workload on people already coping with very high workloads.
"We also have a problem with the attendance management policy, a lot of people are being sacked because of sickness. We have the issue of progression within pay bands. We also want parity between departments so that the same grade in all departments gets the same level of pay.
"It's very important that we are paid fairly and that our pay keeps in line with inflation. Across the board we do very important jobs for the public and work very hard for our money."
A PCS rep at Cityside NINO told Naomi Byron: "The strike has really solid support and the office is down to about 20% of its normal operating level today.
"We're constantly facing changes to systems and the targets are moving as well, and we're under daily pressure dealing with increasing numbers of customers. On a regular basis we're overbooked and understaffed.
"If we had the staff that were supposed to be there, we'd still have problems dealing with the numbers of people. And then of course people go off for sickness and stress because of the working conditions and the staff left in the office are crippled. Despite this we meet all our targets and we exceed our targets on a regular basis. All we're asking for is a fair day's pay for a fair day's work."
Another Cityside NINO striker said: "The government has a lot of money to play with, we found that out in the budget. What about decent pay?"
AT NEWCASTLE city Job Centre, Elaine Brunskill and Paul Phillips spoke to strikers. Keith Maddison said that Gordon Brown's announcement that 12,000 more jobs were to go and around 200 more DWP offices to close has meant: "Things are starting to bite. We're expected to do the same amount of work with a lot less staff."
Brian Morrison added, "Workers feel insecure. All this stuff about giving our work out to other agencies that will be paid £50,000 for each person they find. Why can't they use this money for us?"
The strikers clearly felt there was no difference between New Labour and the Tories.
They all nodded when one worker said: "We shouldn't call this lot New Labour - more like No Labour!"
Gordon Rowntree said he agreed with the stance of the firefighters' union FBU in Liverpool who are looking at standing in local government and parliamentary elections. He added that: "History shows us that workers' parties can be built out of the trade union movement - there's nothing stopping us doing it again."
AROUND 100 PCS members at the PCS Glasgow DWP strike rally heard from guest speakers, including PCS National President Janice Godrich and Scottish TUC President Phil McGarry.
PCS DWP regional secretary Stewart Dalley said that over 90% of DWP staff across Scotland had supported the morning's strike and many offices were reported closed.
Janice Godrich, who is also a member of the International Socialists (CWI in Scotland) reported that strike action was solid across the UK. Janice highlighted the DWP management's hypocrisy in claiming the pay award was a 'good deal.' It is a good deal for top management, some of whom have been awarded annual pay increases and bonuses that are greater than many PCS members' annual salaries!
Other speakers from PCS members in the DWP and Ministry of Defence said the problem of inflation was down largely to the greed of big business utility and fuel companies who continue to increase prices despite record profits.
Ian Fitzpatrick, PCS member, Glasgow
Picket lines round up
Peanuts in Hull
DWP STRIKERS at Britannia House, Hull are fed up with below-inflation wage rises. To highlight low pay in the civil service, they produced a placard saying "We won't work for peanuts". To reinforce the message they offered a peanut to those who crossed the picket line. One of the strikers said, "of course, we wouldn't give them one if they accepted".
ROGER LANGLEY, DWP branch organiser for Swansea Pension Centre told Swansea Socialist Party members: "What is really biting is that the job cuts that Gordon Brown previously announced have meant a huge extra workload for the staff remaining. So, with all the extra workload and then being told there's no pay increase for 25% of our staff this year because of this imposed three year pay deal, we had no option but to go on strike."
AT JOBCENTRE Plus in Southampton, PCS branch secretary Paul Luffman praised the turnout. "I think members have realised that really it is about more than just the pay deal. Everyone is frightened of privatisation - especially since one of the companies management wanted to contract out to has now gone bust."
Jamie Davis, Southampton Socialist Party
THERE WAS an upbeat mood on the Dansom House picket line in Walthamstow. DWP workers were angry about the constant cutbacks in pay and staff, and the division of workplaces into different departments. The postal worker who refused to cross the picket line was greeted with applause. Socialist Party members were greeted warmly, and half the pickets bought copies of The Socialist.
Ben Robinson and, Bob Severn
SIX UNION members and reps picketed outside Bangor Contact Centre on 17 March, with some new members joining on the day. Next day, the same situation was repeated with more members picketing too.
Anger was very high at the low pay these workers have to accept, with several either working or looking to work two jobs at once to afford to live. Several copies of The Socialist were sold over the two days.
Iain Dalton, Bangor Socialist Party
THERE WAS a good mood on the DWP picket lines in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. A new Job Centre scheduled to open on Monday did not do so because of the strike action. Postal workers refused to cross the picket lines.
In The Socialist 19 March 2008:
National Union of Teachers Conference
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
Post Office closures
Socialist Party congress 2008
International socialist news and analysis