Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/232/9256
Fighting For Jobs And Services
PUBLIC SECTOR workers are having to fight to defend jobs and services against a government increasingly hell-bent on selling off everything to the highest bidder.
In some cases, like the Jobcentre Plus dispute the government has taken on the trade union in the hopes of scoring a victory over the workforce before they wheel out their privatisation plans.
In other cases such as local councils like Hackney, there is a wholesale sell-off of services which threaten the living conditions of millions of workers.
The trade union Broad Lefts' anti-privatisation conference held on 24 November was therefore an important step forward in linking up campaigns to defend jobs and services.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary elect of the PCS civil service union, who spoke at the anti-privatisation conference, told The Socialist about the Jobcentre Plus dispute:
"This strike is of fundamental importance because it is about the right of low-paid civil servants to be able to work in a safe environment. The government plans for Jobcentre Plus which will integrate benefits with Jobcentre work, include a predominantly unscreened environment.
"The government know there could be further battles about privatisation and pay in the future. Many members believe if they can take on the union and beat us, we will be severely weakened for future battles.
"For a long time our union has complained about the punitive benefits system. This will get harsher under Jobcentre Plus. Many groups of claimants - those on incapacity benefit for example - will have to go through 'work-focused interviews'. Many people will object and low-paid civil servants will be on the receiving end of the inevitable anger.
"The earliest the action can start is 11 December. The union executive is meeting on 5 December to consider the result. My view is that if there have been no further negotiations then action should be called as soon as possible.
"This would affect all workers in the Benefits Agency and Employment Service, rather than just selective action. This will put management under greater pressure, as indeed have events in Wigan where Makerfield benefits centre, which processes claims from up to a third of all London offices, have come out on three-week strike. That strike has been massively supported by the 300 members there.
"This ballot is one of the most important our members in ES and BA have held for years. It is essential to get the maximum yes vote to force the management back into talks but if they won't do that, to deliver the action which can shift them."
In The Socialist 30 November 2001: