Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/438/5183
ON 2-3 May, Jobcentres, benefit offices, pension centres and the Child Support Agency (CSA) were hit by strike action as 80,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) held a two-day stoppage over worsening service levels and job cuts in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Solidarity on the PCS picket line
Defending jobs and services
FIFTEEN DELEGATES from the USDAW conference in Blackpool joined striking PCS members from the Department for Work and Pensions on 2 May. The Disability and Carers Service (DCS) in Warbreck House employs over 2,500 workers.
Dean Rhodes, the trade union side chair, representing all the branches in the DCS Agency, spoke to the socialist on the picket line.
"People are annoyed about these job cuts. They are not inevitable, as management claim. Nothing is set in stone and the pressure from the union is having tangible effects.
We've already got an agreement to avoid compulsory redundancies and this has worked so far - we've only had one compulsory redundancy in the department over the last three years.
And we've changed the government's stance on pensions, where they said it was non-negotiable. This has raised confidence amongst a section of members that the job cuts can be stopped.
In the Blackpool and Fylde area however we've lost somewhere between 800 and 1,000 jobs out of 8-9,000 civil service jobs in the area. And now we're told another 8-900 jobs cuts are being lined up.
When you cut the workforce from 130,000 to 100,000, with no new technology it means people will have to do more work. We need to keep up our campaign and if necessary take further strike action.
We have a work to rule and overtime ban which, if we implement effectively, could have a real effect on the employer. Their figures estimate that the amount of overtime worked is equivalent to 5,000 extra staff.
I think confidence in PCS is at an all-time high.
It's because members have seen the union having a real effect on this government over pensions and the job cuts.
We're not just defending our jobs. There are other issues like attacks on sick pay and defending the benefits and services for the people who use them.
I'm very pleased to see all the USDAW delegates here this morning on our picket line.
Solidarity such as this shows you're not alone. It shows that other workers share your problems and concerns."
LSC staff say "enough is enough"
"WHEN WILL Mark Haysom stop running the LSC as a PLC - before or after his knighthood?" This was typical of the comments from the Sheffield picket line about the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) last Friday, 28 April.
PCS members in the LSC mounted a successful one-day strike, protesting against the management plans to axe 1,120 jobs - at the same time as recruiting 700 new staff!
Funded by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), the LSC is responsible for funding and planning education and training for over 16 year-olds in England.
Despite this being a public-sector organisation, the management there have employed some of the worst private management practices in order to cull jobs.
It is hardly surprising - before Mark Haysom was appointed chief executive of the LSC in August 2003, he had spent almost 30 years in the newspaper industry.
As managing director of national newspapers for Trinity Mirror, he was responsible for the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail. So he'll be well versed in private sector management practices!
Remember, it was the LSC under his leadership who tried to get an injunction against the civil service strike on 5 November 2004.
He has already put workers through his "Agenda for Change" programme, which shrunk the staffing numbers by 25%. He claimed those proposals will not only make it a smaller, more dynamic organisation but also release savings of some £40 million per year which would benefit 80,000 adults or 12,000 young learners.
Well, he obviously got that wrong, so he's having another go! Playing with people's lives and livelihoods, the LSC are not only ruthlessly sacking more than 1,000 workers but attempting to recruit new workers to take their place. The employer proposes to make people redundant on inferior terms and refuses the call from PCS for a 'no compulsory redundancy' agreement, despite the fact that any compulsory redundancies are avoidable.
PCS members in the LSC have said enough is enough! This is particularly significant given that this is a new organisation with a young history of trade union activity and organisation. In a magnificent 64% turnout - the highest turnout for a strike ballot for some years - more than 87% members voted "yes" for discontinuous strike action.
In Sheffield, more than 20 pickets turned out to demonstrate their anger at the behaviour of their management. New members were being recruited into PCS on the picket line and union membership in this organisation has grown significantly in the last few weeks. Reports indicate that this tremendous level of support has been repeated up and down the country.
A work to rule starts on 2 May - if management don't concede, further action is threatened. So they'd better take note!
Fighting job cuts and management harrassment
AT THE London PCS rally, union general secretary Mark Serwotka said the dispute was at a crucial stage. PCS president Janice Godrich said it was important now to "keep our nerve and dig in."
Both commented that management had seemed about to make concessions on some points a few weeks ago, then overnight they pulled back. Mark warned that the government seemed to be preparing a new attack in the next few weeks.
He said reports from picket lines showed that the strike had held up well, like the January strike. "The government and the management are in denial about the DWP crisis. They pretend everything is OK. But in the last 12 months alone, 21 million calls have gone unanswered in DWP call centres."
Management are introducing schemes which smack of mass production, rather than office work. Measures like these forced the staff at the Learning and Skills Council to strike last week (see report page 11). What lies behind these attacks is the government's drive for privatisation.
The union leadership have to prepare the whole union membership for another national strike against job losses, like that in November 2004. But he emphasised that DWP staff can't wait for that to be organised.
After a discussion, Janice Godrich came back to disagree strongly with those who said that the union had been "hoodwinked" by management. "Our job is to get a settlement which is acceptable to the membership" she said, "striking is a tactic, not an end in itself."
She also disagreed with those calling for selective action by key groups, on strike pay equivalent to their normal take-home pay. "In the end that depends on how much money you raise. The dispute is over as soon as the money runs out. We have to go to the membership and prepare them for a united struggle."
"WE'RE NOT allowed to do secondary picketing, but why are they allowed to do secondary scabbing?" asked PCS steward Nigel, as bosses sent staff across from Hoxton and Shoreditch job centres to help keep the DWP Hackney Central office open.
A DHL courier refused to cross the picket line when he was told why the PCS members were on strike. One person was due to go in following management threats, but turned back when pickets convinced him that these bullying tactics were groundless.
Hackney Jobcentre Plus was due to reopen on 2 May, after being closed for months of refurbishment. This has now been put back to 5 May, as the PCS threatened a press stunt and picket to show up the grand opening ceremony if it had taken place during the strike. Five copies of the socialist were sold on the picket.
THE DWP strike in Brighton and the rest of Sussex was solid. Staff stayed away in droves and union members remain determined to fight the job cuts. A picket line was mounted outside the main Brighton jobcentre and we estimate that only 12 staff out of over 150 went into work. The office has suspended signing on, and has opened for shorter hours offering only an emergency service to the public.
Socialist party members, UNISON members and other local activists supported us on the picket line. The public are extremely sympathetic to our strike, having witnessed for themselves the chaos and misery that the job cuts are causing to the public and staff alike. The strike has had a massive effect in Brighton and management cannot ignore this.
Mark Everden Brighton DWP striker.
PICKETS AT Walthamstow JobCentre Plus were in a good mood as it appeared that more workers were out on strike than last time. Everyone was talking about how important it was to fight the cuts - they said the centre should be renamed JobCentre Minus because of the cuts' effect on the service they can provide!
Everyone signed the Campaign for a New Workers' Party petition, agreeing that there needed to be an alternative to New Labour.
SWANSEA'S LARGE Pension Centre was again brought to almost complete standstill as hundreds of union members supported the call for the two-day strike.
A handful of managers and non-union members crossed the picket line but the PCS pickets were delighted by the response of those who stayed away, showing their determination to fight the job cuts and the increased harassment and intimidation many staff are facing.
Swansea Socialist Party and Swansea Trades Council members received a warm welcome when we joined the pickets to show our support and solidarity.
DAVE MEEHAN, the chair of PCS Lambeth and Southwark DWP spoke to Bill Mullins at Rotherhithe JobCentre picket line.
"Southwark DWP has the worst sickness record in the country. And the new procedures are responsible for that. People are being harassed and threatened with the sack if they have more than 16 days off in 12 months. That is one of the main reasons we're on strike.
In The Socialist 4 May 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party workplace news
1926 General Strike
International socialist news and analysis