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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 October 2008

PCS members vote to strike

Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members across all government departments have voted to take strike action against the government's imposed 2% pay rise maximum. (See below for details of the ballot result).

Bill Mullins

This follows a national strike earlier this year against job losses, the pay freeze, privatisation and attacks on the civil service redundancy scheme.

PCS were successful in reaching agreement on three issues to the satisfaction of the members, who voted 94% in favour of the deal, but this left the pay issue still to fight for.

In the latest ballot, 54% voted to strike and 80% voted for action short of a strike. The tens of thousands of low-paid civil service workers who are prepared to take strike action are a remarkable indication of their preparedness to struggle.

The voting took place just as the whirlwind of the financial crisis began to hit the headlines, with all of the threats to jobs and living standards that this means.

The campaign to win the 'yes' vote was down to the leadership of the union, including many Socialist Party members, who had spoken at dozens of membership meetings up and down the country.

The PCS membership is spread across some 200 different government departments and agencies. This meant that the union had to campaign on the basis of convincing workers that only a national pay settlement could address their grievances.

It is a tribute to the leadership of the union that they were able to bring them altogether and get a majority to vote to take action under a single campaign over pay.

The union's national executive (NEC) will meet next week to decide the timing of any national day of action to kick off the industrial action part of the campaign. This will include sectoral action, ie, workers in the same sectors, for example, health, welfare, tax etc taking action and a national overtime ban. The PCS demands are reasonable, modest and achievable and are what members need and deserve to make some progress away from a downward spiral of low pay.

The college lecturers have accepted their pay offer of between 2% and 5% and the Police Federation has also accepted their recent pay offer of around 2.5%.

The PCS NEC should know by next week the outcome of the ballot amongst teachers in the NUT. If this is also successful the opportunity for joint action is on the cards.

The government seems determined to keep the lid on public-sector pay. It remains to be seen what happens in the negotiations opening up. It would be better if there was a united fight of all the public-sector unions.

But even if the rest of the public-sector unions take a step back, the PCS leaders will, if necessary, organise action alone to defend their members' living standards.

PCS has achieved settlements based on the sound tactical use of industrial action as part of its campaigning work to protect members' interests. Sticking together in a united campaign is the best way to avoid any attempt by the government to isolate the most militant union in the public sector.

Votes for strike action:

Number of ballot papers returned 91,749

Spoilt ballot papers 971

Votes for action short of a strike:

Number of ballot papers returned 91,749 Spoilt ballot papers 1,421

The turnout was 35%.

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In The Socialist 21 October 2008:


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