Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/9047
Civil Servants strike to stop attacks on conditions
Last updated 11.30am 25/3/10
Pickets were out in force outside the Barking Job Centre Plus for the second time taking strike action to stop cuts in the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which would leave many PCS members tens of thousands of pounds worse off in the event of voluntary or compulsory redundancy.
Dave Spagnol, Branch secretary DWP Outer East London spoke to Pete Mason, East London Socialist Party:
"As you can see we've got more people out on the picket line and more supporting the strike this time.
"During the course of the dispute hundreds of new members have been recruited. In this building, two people have joined since the last two days of strike action 8-9 March, and quite a few joined in the run up to that strike.
"The union is taking action today timed for the budget. Members are marching to Westminster for a demonstration in Parliament Square. There's been no movement by management but an early day motion supporting our cause has now been signed by 162 MPs."
Once again there was fantastic response from PCS members of Land Registry Birkenhead branch who remained solid as 95% took strike action on budget day in defence of the civil service compensation scheme.
Around 25 members came along to support the picket line, some of them for the first time, one of whom expressed how empowered they felt from the experience.
Our PCS colleagues working at the nearby Child Support Agency reported improved support for the action compared to the already good support they received from their members on 8 and 9 March.
From the discussions that took place on the picket lines, it was clear that no one has any faith in any of the main parties to look after our interests, all of whom plan to attack public services after the next general election.
It will be crucial for PCS members across he country that the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition are standing at the next election to give them a genuinely socialist pro public services option to vote for.
A lively gathering at Victoria Square, Birmingham marched down New street to a rally. Pickets reported further solid support for strike. At one picket the refuse workers refused to collect the rubbish. As one picket said: "I'm glad I'm not at work today, it could be really smelly in there". At the 100 strong rally a speaker from the NUT stated that they need to plan joint action with PCS and other public sector workers in their battle with the government.
The biggest cheers were for a solidarity speaker from the CWU who raised the need to repeal the anti-trade union laws, explaining that every time postal workers refused to cross PCS picket lines they were in fact breaking the law.
PCS picket lines were strong in Gloucester and Stroud, and someone in Cheltenham joined the picket line on 24 March despite going into work during the previous strike.
John Ewers, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
Simon Smith, Gloucestershire DWP chair, said the PCS had recruited 1,000 members during the previous month, including 25 in Gloucester.
Consultation is currently taking place in the PCS over the issue of political representation, and there was sympathy for the TUSC election platform on the Gloucester picket lines.
Socialist Party members visited picket lines at Eastgate & Park Place job centres, Hume House benefits agency office, Lisburn Street Tax Office, Leeds Combined Courts, Leeds Crown Courts and the Government Office for Yorkshire & Humber.
The strike remained solid, with similar numbers out as in the strike two weeks ago, although at Eastgate job centre pickets reported several people joining the union after management's bullying behaviour over the strike and at the Government Office a PCS rep reported an improved turnout from the last strike.
All over the city, picket lines remained solid with the Socialist Party and TUSC material we brought round going down well, with eight copies of the socialist sold.
At 11am, a rally bringing together pickets from around the city took place outside Leeds Combined Courts, where PCS NEC and Socialist Party member Rob Williams addressed pickets and other supporters reporting on action elsewhere as well as bringing solidarity greetings from other unions.
Steve Heyward, Liverpool PCS DWP shop steward (personal capacity)
Wednesday 24 March saw PCS members taking a third day of strike action against the government's plans to cut our compensation scheme.
The picket line in Everton, outside Everton Jobcentre plus was in full swing by 7:30am with union reps and support from a Socialist Party member.
We stood outside the front of the job centre handing out material to members of the public who expressed their outrage at the government.
Armed with whistles, we made sure that our voices were heard. Management came out and asked us to move to the back of the office where the staff entrance is, this fell on deaf ears and management were told they were welcome to call the police as we were not doing anything illegal or wrong.
With great support from the public, other unions and socialist organisations, we attended the 70-strong rally in Liverpool.
With great speakers, a lot of noise from colleagues and comrades, flags and banners everywhere, it was quite obvious why we were there.
As I said to a reporter from REAL radio, "PCS members will stand up and fight against these changes!"
With the chancellor presenting the budget today, the action taken by PCS will undoubtedly increase the pressure on the government.
After all, the workers united will never be defeated!
There were strong picket lines at the Natural History museum and Victoria and Albert museums on budget day.
Liz, a retired teacher and Haringey NUT member donated £10 to the hardship fund. Staff walked out of the Science Museum after learning that management had brought in agency workers to break the strike.
They were outraged that only five experienced staff were working and that agency staff had been given a map and walkie talkie to provide security in the galleries.
PCS officials contacted the Health and Safety executive who were not interested. Kensington and Chelsea environmental health, despite claiming to be "responsible for the enforcement of health and safety matters in a range of non-industrial premises" disclaimed responsibility, when concerns were raised that museum management were using less than minimum numbers of experienced staff to keep it open.
This was despite the fact that over 3,000 children were expected as part of planned visits to the museum.
In the event of an evacuation, it is unlikely people would be able to get out safely due to the complex building structure.
Civil servants in Greater Manchester struck solidly again, despite a virtual black-out on the strike in the national and local media.
Socialist Party members were well received at the picket lines in Chorlton and in the city centre where we sold several copies of the socialist.
More were sold at the lunch-time rally at Exchange Square where 35-40 strikers rallied to gain public support.
Pickets were out in force again at Newport Passport Office after 97% of members supported the last strike.
Dave Reid, Cardiff Socialist Party
Again only a trickle of staff went into work as the strike has really affected the office.
A number of members supported the picket line at the Intellectual Property Office and Business Statistics Office in Duffryn despite the rain starting to pour down later in the morning.
Alicia Crane and Elaine Brunskill spoke to PCS strikers.
At Durham's Passport Office Jeff McGough (Branch Secretary) was delighted with the response, telling us it was much better than last time.
Jeff is hopeful that the strike will receive good public support against the "cynical attempt to cut the wages and conditions of workers who are already badly paid."
Jeff went on to express concern that the next government is likely to be a minority government, which could give the likes of the BNP credence.
He went on to say, "This wouldn't be happening if it wasn't for the right-ward shift of the Labour Party.
It's become a bosses' party, rather than a party for the working man."
Jeff also mentioned that the PCS members who'd turned up at the picket line had all worked hard, and were all looking forward to a fry-up afterwards!
Roysten Palmer (PCS workplace rep) told us that managers and the 'usual suspects' who'd crossed the picket line on the last strike hadn't made any impact - it had taken 3 days to clear the backlog of post.
This opinion was echoed by Wendy Hillary (counter staff union rep) who said this strike would again have a big knock on effect because it was clear that it was really quiet inside the office.
Many of the PCS strikers also commented on the BA strike. Roysten said, "When Willie Walsh takes his pay down to the level of BA cabin crew, then he can complain.
If he's not prepared to do that he can take a run and a jump." Aurelia Smith talked about the bullying behaviour of Willie Walsh.
Linden Hird commented that maybe the BA strike and Passport Offices should link up their strikes "After all - people can't go on holiday without their passport."
At the Durham Land Registry office, which is next to a busy roundabout, the strikers were getting loads of public support from passing motorists tooting their horns.
Neville Nattrass (Branch Executive Committee member) told us, "The strike is going well. This is our third day out, and low paid staff are showing they are willing to sacrifice their pay to support the strike.
Neville went on to comment that the government tell us that they cannot penalise bankers, because of contractual agreements.
However, when it comes to civil servants they want to rip up and worsen conditions. He also pointed out, "The irony is we are here fighting to protect the terms and conditions brought in by Thatcher."
Richard Murray told the socialist that, "Although I've been here for 26 years, they are only recognising 7 years of my service." Richard went on to tell us he was worried about being made redundant, "Where else can I go.
I'm 45 years old and disabled. Also, my wife is in a similar situation. The pair of us could be made redundant. We've got an 11 year old son, but our future is really insecure. We are really worried."
Commenting about the picket line at Sunderland DWP office Neil Todner (Branch Chair) said that they had been pleased with the increased level of support, including the number of temporary staff who've joined the PCS.
He went on to say that members of the public ringing in today have been told that the office is experiencing technical difficulties.
Later in the day around 50 PCS strikers met up outside Foreign Secretary David Milliband's office in South Shields to hand in a petition against the attacks on their members.
Disgracefully the government Minister's constituency office refused to accept the petition from workers struggling to defend their wages and conditions.
Alec Thraves and Khalid Qassem spoke to PCS pickets
It was a wet and windy morning on the picket lines in Swansea today with drenched pickets and soggy leaflets.
Nevertheless, there were large pickets on the biggest civil service workplaces, particularly the Pension Centre and the Land Registry.
The main focus today will be a protest outside the Welsh Assembly to highlight on budget day the impact of government cuts to the general public as well as the proposed job losses.
Roger Langley, PCS branch organiser at the Pension Centre, told us he was to be interviewed by ITV at lunchtime on the picket line.
He explained that he would be telling them: "that on budget day, our message to government is that our members are not prepared to pay the price for the bankers' crisis!"
A response supported by everyone taking action.
PCS (Public and Commercial Services) union members were in determined mood at pickets across Warrington yesterday.
Outside Hilden House, where over 600 civil servants work on pension provision, there was at least as much anger over draconian sickness and attendance policies and targets as over the government's plans to go back on previously agreed redundancy provisions.
But strikers could clearly see that the government is clearing the decks ready for redundancies after the election.
"Some people have worked here a long time," one picket told me, "These changes could cost them a fortune if the worst comes."
At Risley a small but cheerful picket of PCS members flew the union flag outside the prison gates, getting a great reception from passing motorists:
"Why should we accept job cuts on the cheap? We have mortgages to pay, bills to pay, and it's an uncertain future," one striker told me.
"Some of our members' jobs have already been declared 'surplus'. Even cleaners jobs are going". In the prison PCS organises the administration staff and cleaners. Cleaners jobs are being left vacant to save money. A PCS member explained the situation:
"This prison has got to find £750,000 worth of savings, which equates to staff cuts of around 10%. No wonder they want to cut our redundancy," she said. "They have even suggested replacing paid cleaners with prisoners!"
Pickets were also out at the Job Centre and Thorn Cross Young Offenders Institute.
For the third strike day in a row the proceedings of the Welsh Assembly were disrupted by the strike called by PCS.
Over 200 members rallied outside the Assembly building in Cardiff Bay to hear Chris Baugh assistant general secretary of PCS, Peter Harris, Wales secretary of PCS and Leanne Wood AM condemn the current government for its attacks on public sector workers to pay for the crisis in government finances.
Labour and Plaid Cymru members of the Assembly have been prevented from taking part in the Assembly business by the PCS pickets outside the Senedd.
In the last strike the plenary session was cancelled, but this time the Liberal Democrat assembly members joined the Tories in making a point of crossing PCS picket lines to go ahead with the session of the Assembly in a largely deserted Senedd.
Speaker after speaker at the rally asked why public services and public sector workers should pay for the crisis caused by the bankers.
Meanwhile the main parties are preparing to take an axe to public services. Most workers see this action as the opening shots in the war between the capitalist parties and public sector workers.
PCS pickets who work on security at the Houses of Parliament were out again in force. One of the pickets, who had been working there for twenty years, explained that during the last strike extra police were drafted in at a cost of £300,000.
He, like other pickets, was angry that Gordon Brown has demanded that the cabin crew and BA management keep talking to resolve their dispute, yet Brown and members of the cabinet are refusing to talk to the PCS about this dispute.
Commenting on the attacks on other public services he said what is needed is a general strike.
Pickets at the main home office building explained how privatised workers in their office had been threatened with the sack if they refused to cross the picket line.
They also mentioned that whilst this government is attacking civil servants conditions they are spending £36 million a year paying off the PFI contract on this Home Office building.
PCS members were out in force again in Wrexham, with picket lines at the Job Centre, tax office, a valuations office and the courts.
Support from the public was excellent, with drivers coming past the Job Centre creating a cacophony of noise in response to PCS members' 'beep if you support public services' placards.
Journalists and photographers from the local press visited workers on all four picket lines in Wrexham, and ITV Wales visited the tax office picket line.
Workers were joined on the picket lines by members of North Wales Shop Stewards Network and Wrexham Socialist Party.
It was clear that the overwhelming majority of workers at all four sites were out, with only a trickle of workers crossing the picket lines.
The solidarity of PCS members and the support of the public in Wrexham are solid.