Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/343/5723
Civil service strikes
Fighting Low Pay
NEARLY 100,000 civil servants were on strike on 13 and 14 April. Members of the PCS union in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Prison Service were striking against low pay.
In all three departments, derisory pay 'deals' have been imposed on the workforce. ONS staff, who were on a 24-hour strike on 13 April, have also had a discriminatory bonus scheme imposed on them. Management in the DWP have forced an unfair and divisive pay performance system (PDS) on staff.
The union has threatened to take the DWP to the high court over the imposition of PDS, as it amounts to a breach of contract.
The reports below show the solidarity of the strikes. Civil servants have had enough. They are fed up with being underpaid and undervalued. But they also understand the importance of solidarity and organisation against the government's agenda for the public services.
The government's mantra is "public bad, private good". This has implications for all public services.
They have already announced they want to cut tens of thousands of jobs from the civil service. They clearly want to leave the remaining workers on low wages, policed by unfair performance measurement schemes.
And at the top, the mandarins will remain on six-figure salaries, just there to decide which companies get the contracts for the privatised services.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commented:
"Unfortunately there will be disruption to the public, but if anyone is going to point the finger, don't point it at the thousands of low-paid public servants but the senior managers on six digit salaries.
"If ministers want to retain highly motivated public servants delivering first-class public services, then it is time for them to intervene and tell senior managers to start paying first class wages."
Hackney Assessment scheme won't make the grade
OUTSIDE HACKNEY DWP on the first day of the PCS strike, pickets told Clare Doyle from the socialist: "This is not just about low pay. The new system of assessment is bound, by its very nature, to be unfair. Our work has always been assessed in some way, which is understandable.
"There would always be a few who literally didn't make the grade - a few in the D box. But most would be As and Bs. Now, with these targets, even if everyone is doing a good job there will still have to be 10% of workers put into the D box.
"And it can make a big difference to the pay you get. All this will be going on without the union being able to negotiate. It's a big step backwards".
One Hackney picket is a subscriber to the socialist and commented how much he enjoyed reading the paper. "It tells you a lot you can't read anywhere else". Hopefully, in the course of the strike, many more PCS activists will be following his example.
"WHAT ARE they on strike for?" "They get shit wages for the abuse we give them." This exchange between two people waiting to see if a Sheffield JobCentre would open summed up the serious mood on the four picket lines I visited.
Fewer people had gone into work - partly because some managers didn't come in. They're fed up with the PDS performance assessment system. They're supposed to carry out all the assessments by the beginning of May and they've been threatened with suspension if they refuse to co-operate.
Alistair Tice, Sheffield
THE PCS strike in Manchester was overwhelmingly solid. At the Longsight picket, Stella Dennis, DWP Group President and Socialist Party member told us: "All the signs are that the strike is holding up. The support is just as strong as it has been for the previous two days.
"The picket lines are solid. If anything, the support is greater than it has been. What we need now is to ensure more members get involved and get active.
"We want every single member to support the over-time ban, to support the withdrawal of 'goodwill', and to keep pressure on the management at every level to force them back to the negotiating table."
THERE WERE 35 pickets at the Dundee Pension Centre. The mood was good, with about 65% of the 600-strong workforce on strike. PHIL RILEY, chair of the strike committee, told Philip Stott:
"The centre opened in February 2002 and now over 400 of the predominantly young workforce are in the union. The pay 'deal' is a slap in the face and the PDS scheme is absolutely hated."
MEMBERS OF both PCS and Prospect unions held a successful picket of the Office of National Statistics (ONS) at Titchfield, Hampshire. They were striking against the imposed pay deal, the bonus scheme and campaigning against the transfer of the 1,100 jobs to Wales or the South West.
Despite all the statistical evidence, reviewed by ONS themselves, management refuse to suspend the appraisal and bonus system, even though it clearly shows discrimination against staff by gender, race, grade and part-time status.
The new bonus scheme introduced in addition to this is completely secret and arbitrary. "We have no trust that the scheme is fair. Management have the powers to suspend it but have refused to," said PCS pay negotiators.
Angry pickets said: "The pay deal keeps our members low paid, the pay scale does not allow any progression, members who have worked here for several years are still on the bottom grade. We used to move up the scale every year.
"They now talk of relocating to promote the 'Corporate Image'. We have asked what the costs are and we've been told they do not know! They also admitted that there would be no financial savings. I've only found two people who said they would be prepared to move."
Brighton Deepen the boycott
"THE MOST important thing to do now is to spread and deepen the boycott of the PDS appraisal system," Mark Everden from Brighton PCS told the socialist.
"The top management are threatening to send home those managers who refuse to write up staff appraisals. This is a vital part of the scheme to pay increases purely on the basis of performance. Many members are now aware that their pay increase from next year will be wholly based on the whim of the appraisal schemes.
"The strike in Brighton has been very successful, for the first time both JobCentres were shut down and people have been told not to come for interviews until next week.
"Even though there were less on the picket lines this time, there were probably more on strike. But we'll have to look carefully at what we do for the next stage of the campaign. That is why I think the boycott of PDS is so important."
Leicester Prepared to strike again
AT THE Leicester PCS picket lines Paul told the socialist. "The prospect of 130,000 job losses weighs heavily on members' minds, that's why we have even more support this time. Last week around 100 members attended the union meeting to organise the strike".
In the run-up to the two-day strike management had been hinting to newish union members that they could be disciplined for going on strike. Line managers were also threatened with suspension if they did not carry out staff appraisals under the draconian Performance Development System, (PDS).
All pickets were prepared to come out again if necessary. One first time picket said: "I feel so strongly about this, their pay offer is insulting, the union has helped me out before so if we have to strike again I'll be out doing my bit".
In The Socialist 17 April 2004:
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