Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/335/5639
Striking for a decent wage
TENS OF thousands of PCS members in the DWP (JobCentres and benefit offices) and the Driving Standards Agency went on strike on 16 and 17 February against low pay. Strikers spoke to the socialist about their action.
"We'll keep up the pressure"
THE STRIKE action in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Driving Standards Agency has been incredibly well supported.
Janice Godrich, president of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)
In the DWP we've seen 85%-90% of members supporting the strike. It's quite clear that their attitude to the dispute and their willingness to support the strike hardened after management reneged on a previous commitment to negotiate with the union.
The employer now needs to take members views on board and enter into serious negotiations to deal with the problems of low pay, pay deals below inflation and a discriminatory performance and appraisal system. If they don't enter into those negotiations it is clear members' attitudes will continue to harden. The union will keep up the pressure on the employer with a work to rule and further unpaid strike action to try and achieve our aims. There will be a PCS conference on 6 March to discuss the way forward.
High turnout in Brighton
At Brighton JobCentre the strike turnout was higher on the second day, with 80-85% out on Monday and 90% out on Tuesday. People were joining the union on the picket line.
Mark Everden, PCS Brighton
In an office in Hastings, a non-member went to work, then came running out after an hour and asked for a membership form saying, "I can't stay in there any more". The big Child Support Agency office in Hastings had its first picket line ever.
It was not evenly supported - all the staff in the small JobCentre in Chichester went to work but the manager came out on strike!
Thomas House, a Socialist Party member at Sussex University, spoke at the strike rally about the AUT strike and the NUS week of action on fees (see back page). There were messages of support from local trade unions like the FBU and the trades council and postal workers respected the picket lines.
Other messages were received from a tutor from the Trade Union College of Finland, who had visited Brighton a couple of years ago and Annie McDonald from the Las Vegas Culinary Workers union, local 226. This is the biggest union in Las Vegas.
Solidarity in Leicester
DESPITE MANAGEMENT propaganda that even Goebbels would have been proud of, and the fact that the union was not allowed to use email to communicate on any matters to do with industrial action, members' response was emphatic.
PCS member, Leicester
One of the highlights was when four casual staff from Charles Street Jobcentre Plus office who went to work on the first day of the strike, decided to stand on the picket line on the second day.
They said they didn't realise that pickets were actually decent people just defending other staff and not the aggressive animals management would have them believe.
This was very brave of them as casual staff in DWP can have their contract revoked at any time.
I was told that management stated that only a third of staff stayed away from work on both days. Nobody actually knows where management pluck these figures from but from the picket lines I attended it was clear that only minimal staff attended work and these were mainly non-members.
Hopefully this will send a message to our draconian management that they may have severely slashed official trade union time given to reps, but they won't break the solidarity shown by our members time and time again on disputes.
"IT'S NOT just an issue of low pay, although there's thousands of workers on less than £15,000, but also the issue of appraisals, which sticks people in pay bands. People end up doing the same job but being paid differently.
Management are also trying to break the union by cutting back on facility time and making it difficult to organise."
Jane Macbeth, PCS rep, Southampton benefit office
I'VE ONLY worked here for three months and I'm already on strike. I'm from France where workers have more of a tradition of going on strike. It's not just about pay, its about working conditions as well. Sometimes I just don't want to go to work in the morning.
Melanie, Leytonstone JobCentre
DEVOLVED PAY bargaining sucks! We have 150 different bargaining units, which is good for bosses but not workers. It makes the largest departments have the lowest in wages."
PCS member, Brighton
In The Socialist 21 February 2004:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party feature