The Socialist 10 March 2010 |
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Civil servants strike reports
Members of the PCS civil servants' union took strike action today to oppose the changes to the civil service compensation scheme (redundancy agreement). More reports to follow.
PCS strike in Barking (Click to enlarge)
Management abandoned plans to open to people signing on and opened late for appointments, as most PCS workers stayed away in Barking.
PCS branch secretary Outer East London Dave Spagnol said:
"Thanks to pressure from PCS, management have made a number of concessions to their plans to cut the civil service compensation scheme.
"But the fact remains that redundancy payments would be reduced for a large number of our members and very importantly there is no provision at all for people who volunteer for redundancy, where payments will be at the discretion of government departments.
"This is likely to mean no one will volunteer for redundancy and departments will then make the most recent entrants redundant and make huge savings in the cost of job cuts. It will also mean that younger people won't have jobs."
Birkenhead PCS strikers on the picket line, photo by Merseyside Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
Along with our colleagues across the civil and public service, PCS members in Birkenhead showed massive support for action in defence of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme on 8 and 9 March. More members came along to picket and support the picket line than actually went into work, as 98% of members struck.
Dave Lunn, Chair PCS Land Registry Branch, personal capacity
The action was also well supported across Land Registry, and indeed across PCS as a whole, which has undoubtedly had a massive impact on the delivery of the services that PCS members provide.
This sends a clear message to the government that PCS members will not allow them to tear up our contracted accrued rights without a fight.
If the changes to the compensation scheme are allowed to go through, they would result in a massive swathe of job cuts and privatisation as we would become cheaper to sack.
Our message is, if the government want to save money on redundancy payments, there is a simple solution... stop making public servants redundant!
It is crucial however, that the pressure is kept on the government as we send them a message that they need to get back around the table and reach agreement with PCS. Members are braced for a further rolling programme of strike action and action short of strike if called.
After the picket line, members from the branch attended a rally in Liverpool to hear the PCS general secretary explain that support across the country had been overwhelming. He reminded members how previous action had led to victories on sick pay, pensions and job protection. He then called upon the government to come up with a seventh "final offer" on the compensation scheme, which would be acceptable to PCS members.
In our branch, we will continue to build and deliver support for the campaign in defence of our compensation scheme, our jobs and our futures. Members know that as long as we continue to stand together, we can win!
Birmingham Socialist Party visited PCS picket lines at Selly Oak, Northfield and Erdington Job Centre Plus and the OFWAT office.
Few members went in at the Job Centre Plus offices except managers, non-members and some fixed-term contract workers. The pickets spoken to were quite clear about why they were out on strike. They saw attacks on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme as the precursor to large scale redundancies being bought about by privatisation.
After picket duty about 200 PCS members had a brief march through Birmingham city centre before attending a rally addressed by the Birmingham City Council UNISON branch secretary (themselves facing large redundancies), the NUT, FBU and Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of PCS. Chris got a thunderous round of applause when he called on civil servants not to vote for any candidate at the general election who didn't back the PCS campaign to defend jobs, services and the Compensation Scheme.
17 papers were sold overall and the Socialist Party strike leaflet and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition leaflets were well received.
Cardiff PCS members on the picket line, photo by Sarah Mayo (Click to enlarge)
PCS activists at Cardiff Job Centre were in a determined mood on their second day of strike action this week.
Sarah Mayo, Caerphilly Socialist Party
Lyn Hawkins, office rep, is convinced about the justness of the reasons behind the strikes. Lyn explained to the socialist that the proposed changes to the civil service compensation scheme are a major attack on members' conditions:
"Even though PCS gained some important concessions through negotiations, we still face a major attack.
We're on strike because the changes to the scheme will be really detrimental to members. If this goes ahead, for example, members with a longer service would lose a third of their existing entitlement (which would be thousands of pounds)."
Lyn also explained how important it is for PCS to continue to reach out to young and fixed-term contract workers to explain how the attacks affect them - many of whom can feel pressurised to go into work by an anti-union employer.
Lyn welcomed the support the branch has received from different trade unionists and socialists and highlighted the solidarity of the CWU in particular: "The posties won't cross our picket lines, which is great".
As for the outcome of the action, Lyn said he hoped that, "it will get management back to the table and that we achieve a satisfactory and speedy resolution to the dispute, but we'll remain a strong, campaigning union either way".
On the second day of PCS strike action the Socialist Party received a warm welcome when we visited picket lines in Durham.
At the Durham Land Registry office Stuart Dunn, the branch secretary, explained how the mood of workers was low: "Last year there were 1700 jobs lost through voluntary redundancy, and the threat of 1500 compulsory redundancies to come, plus the closure of five offices. Many members are at their wits end."
However, Stuart went on to say that: "The mood on the picket line is good. We have been fantastically supported. We have around 80% out on strike - much better than we had thought." Stuart also acknowledged, "We've got a hell of a fight on our hands, but we're up for the challenge."
Another striker at Durham Land Registry, Michael Cassidy, committee member and Health and Safety Rep, echoed the view that the strike was well supported, saying: "We've got a justifiable reason for being out, which is recognised by our members." Michael was also pleased with the public response. The Land Registry picket line is next to a busy roundabout, "We've had lots of support, lots of waves, lots of tooting!"
At Durham's Passport Office strikers were pleased to report that less people had gone in on the second day, than on the first - which shows the importance of a picket line.
One of the strikers, Royston Palmer, said that in the office, "Staff have been badgered over the last 5 years, there's no goodwill left. We've had attacks on our conditions; our pay has been kept down."
Strikers commented that there was a deliberate attempt to tarnish public sector workers. Branch Secretary, Jeff McGough said:
"The national press are trying to make it out to be a public versus private sector workers. However, if the government are prepared to treat their own workers like this, what chance does anyone else have?" He went on to say that, "Industrial action is always a last resort. People don't want to go on strike, but because of conditions we've been pushed into it."
Strikers at Durham's Old Elvet House Job Centre said the mood was buoyant on the picket line. Gordon Mabon, Durham branch chair, told us, "It's ironic that the civil service compensation scheme was brought in by Thatcher, but is too radical for New Labour!"
Customs, DWP, Ministry of Justice, Equalities and many others held picket lines across the conurbation and city centre in one of the most public disputes in recent years. The strikes themselves were up to 95% solid on a successful first day of strike action for PCS-organised civil service workers in Greater Manchester.
Management are clearly desperately looking for a bit of 'good news' from their scabby point of view, to the extent that DWP managers escorted Royal Mail managers across picket lines after ordinary posties refused to deliver mail past strikers! It must have made a change for the RM managers to be doing deliveries instead of victimising postal workers...
We visited picket lines across Manchester, Salford and Bury, meeting angry and determined PCS members everywhere! Youth Fight for Jobs and TUSC were well-received, as was the socialist, and a Tamil Solidarity speaker will address one of the main PCS branches in the near future.
Reports from pickets all around Lancashire are of absolutely solid support for the action with members overwhelmingly coming out to strike and I'm sure they will again tomorrow.
There's a lot of anger about what Tessa Jowell said [that a majority of PCS members refused to strike], it's not true and not what's being reported from across the country.
We've got loads of non-members join, and FDA and Prospect members joining PCS because they feel disillusioned with their own leaderships.
The rally in Preston had good support with up to 70 attending, including a speaker from the NUT and activists from the trades councils in the county.
Other trade unions are supporting us; an attack on one public-sector union is an attack on all!
PCS members on the picket line in Leicester, photo by Leicester Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
Socialist Party members visited picket lines across Leicester at the DWP, HMRC and Land Registry.
At the PCS strike Rally in Leicester on Monday reports were heard of the success of the strike across Leicestershire and Northants.
Colin Wiltshire, Ministry Of Justice branch secretary, said that only two of the six courts were operating in the Leicester Crown Court, staffed mainly by senior management.
Bash Chilwan DWP Group Treasurer said: "Our members are very angry about this issue. 75% are on strike at the Leicester Pensions Centre. More and more members are joining us because of the action we are taking.
"In the DWP we have faced many cuts over the last few years. There are more cuts on the way. We have three contact centres in the East Midlands, one of those could go with a large scale loss of jobs.
This is also about services to the public". Dave Bean Deputy President of the PCS pointed out that all the main parties are planning drastic cuts in public services
PSC banner in Leicester on the picket line, photo Leicester Socialist Party
Steve Score, Trades Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in Leicester West, was able to speak at the Rally to give support from TUSC and the Socialist Party. He explained that TUSC was aiming to provide a voice for working class people.
Steve explained how TUSC opposed the consensus of the main parties, which are all in favour cuts in public services, because TUSC opposes all attacks on working people and their services.
A number of PCS members subsequently offered to help TUSC in the campaign.
The first day of the strike in Newcastle was very lively and many picket lines were well attended. Tyne View DWP picketers gave us an exceedingly warm welcome and were even asking to buy our papers before we dished them out.
Branch Rep Neil Simpson was exceedingly pleased with the turnout. He told us that the leadership of "Unison should their head out of the arse of New Labour and start defending its members".
The branch's new banner, as PCS member Dave Stead eagerly pointed out, bore the slogan "Fighting for your benefit" which reflects the branches attitude to its own members, state pensioners and the wider issues.
We visited other pickets such as Benton Park View HMRC. Kevin McHugh Branch Secretary and NEC pointed out that, "people are starting to see the injustice", whilst referring to the solid strike.
New PCS lay member Jan Bachini added that, "they have no other choice than to strike" and "we have to make a stand".
At the Cobalt Park View picket line PCS Regional Organiser and Socialist Party member Julie Young managed to convince two members to turn around and support the strike and even signed up two people to the union!
Paul Phillips, Newcastle Socialist Party
PCS workers on strike at the Passport Office, photo Socialist Party Wales (Click to enlarge)
Civil servants braved temperatures of -6 to set up picket lines at offices across Newport. Morale was high in defiance of David Cameron's threat to do "more with less", i.e. sack civil servants and then force the remaining workers to push themselves to the limit. New Labour's attack on redundancy pay is intended to make it cheaper and easier to sack civil servants.
At the Passport Office PCS members turned up bright and early and there was a good turnout on the picket line. At the Business Statistics Office and Patent Office there was a large group supporting the picket line. And at the DWP office in Kingsway workers joined the union and joined the strike (see photo).
Portsmouth TUSC Candidate Shows Support for PCS
Mick Tosh (Right) TUSC Candidate, Portsmouth North (Click to enlarge)
Portsmouth Socialist Party and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) activists stood shoulder to shoulder with PCS members across the city on Monday, in the first of two days of strike action to defend jobs and public services. Picket lines were formed across the city, including outside the job centres of this unemployment black spot and the sprawling naval dockyard, yet nowhere was the mood more militant than outside the city land registry where 200 job cuts have also been announced.
Ben Norman, Portsmouth Socialist Party
PCS member Simon Jones, who has been leading land registry workers in a campaign to save their jobs, told The Socialist: "While we're facing job losses here, the managers have made sure they're safe. Bosses just go from department to department wielding the axe. Of course that's not just in our workplace; look at Adam Crozier at the Post Office. He's tried to privatise that public service, but will it affect him? No, he's keeping his huge salary and he's taking it with him to run ITV. That's how removed these bosses are from us, we end up on the dole while they can job hop around."
"People seem to think we're on gold plated pensions, that's the propaganda we face," said another PCS activist, Susan, "but that's simply not true. The average civil service pension is under £6000, I'd have to be here until I'm over 65 to make £7000, but that's not going to happen now they're axing our jobs."
"The support we've had from the public and other unions has been fantastic," Susan added, "The postman came to deliver this morning, but he refused to cross the picket line and joined us instead."
"The fact that this is this biggest strike in the civil service for 23 years shows the huge anger that exists against the government attacks on hard-won terms and conditions," said Andy Waterman, from Portsmouth Socialist Party. "There is clearly support from the public who can see what affect cuts of any kind will have on public services, particularly during an economic crisis."
Socialist Party members were joined by Mick Tosh, RMT Rep and Parliamentary Candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Portsmouth North.
"I'm standing shoulder to shoulder with comrades in PCS, as the TUSC candidate and as a local trade unionist. Any attack on workers' conditions is an attack on working people as a whole. Now is the time for trade unions to come together against the savage cuts and attacks which the major political parties want to unleash."
"We're sending out a clear message today that no matter which party wins the coming election, and no matter how many cuts they promote and pursue, we have the answer - sticking together through collective action and fighting back. This action by PCS stands alongside the postal workers strike, the local protests by university staff and students as part of that fight back. We need to build on this, build up the strength of the trade union movement in Portsmouth and build a real, fighting political alternative."
PCS activists from the Land registry campaign will be joining other local trade unionists at a public meeting hosted by the TUSC: Portsmouth North campaign on 19th March at the Fratton Trade Union Club.
Socialist Party members were active on two PCS picket lines Monday 8 March. Both pickets were well attended and it was a pleasure to speak with both fresh activists and old hands involved in this important struggle. These are ties we hope to strengthen and will definitely stay in contact and up to date with these fellow comrades.
We managed to speak with Nosh (25), PCS Youth Rep at the Reading Job Centre and Christian Bishop, PCS Rep for Reading Rural Payments Agents office. Firstly we asked why they were on strike:
Nosh replied that they were opposed to the job cuts, losing staff and pension cuts as well as the lack of support for civil servants from the government whilst they still support the mega-rich bankers.
Christian stated that the redundancies package entitlements had been cut by one third, making the threats of planned redundancy cheaper and easier for the management, and he definitely believed that this was a decision based on steps planned towards the privatisation of several departments in his offices.
When questioned on the subject of MPs receiving pay rises of £1000, Nosh replied that he felt this is ludicrous that those at the top get so many privileges compared to the lack of protection for workers who don't get a second thought.
On the RPA picket Christian was questioned on the importance of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition's challenge in the general election. He felt there should be much more open debate within the unions to push something like this forward. He felt the mainstream unions were far too tied to New Labour.
Nosh supported the ideas of a new workers' party and an anti cuts alliance. He felt the time definitely called for a collective change in attitudes towards alliances with the trade unions to fight public sector cuts and privatisation.
Christian's final questions were on what future action should be taken by activists and not only does he hope to lobby the TUC over pay disputes, but also believes that a general strike, in the manner of what happened in Ireland, is possible.
Sheffield Socialist Party members visited nine PCS picket lines in the city centre.
Particularly encouraging were the two lively picket lines at Vulcan House, a massive new Home Office building, a department difficult to organise in the past.
'Madness' CDs were played outside the main entrance, indicating what pickets think of government plans as well as the musical preference of the Two Tones branch secretary!
About 70 PCS members gathered after picketing for an indoor meeting, only pickets from the magistrates' courts were missing - there pickets continued 'til 2pm.
At the rally, speakers included Socialist Party members Marion Lloyd (PCS national executive member) and Wyllie Hume (who spoke for Youth Fight for Jobs).
At the end, the BBC Radio Sheffield reporter bought a copy of the Socialist saying, "We'll be out next with the cuts they're making at the BBC."
In total 14 copies of the socialist were sold and dozens of signatures collected for YFFJ.
A Socialist Student member and I visited various locations where strike actions were taking place.
Kev Hayes, Southampton Socialist Party
The mood was angry at the way this is going to change contracts of employment and will allow future cuts to go through that much cheaper.
I spoke with many workers on the picket lines. All were of the opinion that no matter who wins the general election cuts will be made to the civil service.
I brought up the general election challenge that is growing brought about by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
I passed out leaflets detailing TUSC's ideas which were well received. One PCS member from the DWP Office in Totton near Southampton said "it will be a long hot summer".
Stoke-on-Trent PCS members on strike, photo by Stoke Socialist Party
There was a good turnout on picket lines in Stoke-on-Trent city centre - at the DWP office in Albion Square at the Tax Office across the road and at Jobcentre plus. A TNT delivery driver refused to cross the picket line with some shoppers and people on the way to work stopping to offer their support.
Pete Rofe, DWP Branch Secretary told the Socialist:
PCS strike in Southampton, photo Southampton Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
"We're striking against the government's plans to cut thousands of pounds from our redundancy pay and to cuts tens of thousands of civil service jobs. Their plans will not only hit civil servants but make it more difficult for those most in need to get their benefits.
If the government really want to save money why don't they employ more staff to collect the £130 billion a year which is lost through the tax evasion and tax avoidance, mainly by big business."
Alec Thraves and Khalid Qassem spoke to strikers on several picket lines in Swansea:
Workers on a large picket line at the Swansea Pensions Centre were pleased with the low number of scabs going into work. The vast majority were out on strike as Roger Langley, PCS branch organiser explained:
"The underlying message is that the government want to cut our jobs on the cheap! We can't afford to lose any more jobs in Swansea and we all have to learn to stick together whether it's private or public sector."
Two sites were being picketed at the massive DVLA. Lin Black, picketing at the Swansea Vale site, said that the buses which were normally packed with workers were arriving almost empty.
PCS strike in Southampton, photo Southampton Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
At the main site entrance in Clase, Gary Baker, PCS branch committee member said: "All the major parties are planning massive cuts in the public sector so its no coincidence they are doing this now. We have a new union leadership at DVLA and the union has become more active and militant with a better profile amongst the members. We are defending members a lot more than the previous right wing regime and its disappointing to see two of the former officers breaking the strike by coming into work today."
Even where there were no picket lines, offices were shut or just a skeleton staff of scabs and managers trying hopelessly to cope.
Strikers in Swansea were due to attend a mid day rally in the city centre in preparation for more action if the government doesn't back off.
Outside the Houses of Parliament there was a noisy and determined picket of 10 PCS members who worked as part of the security team.
The pickets had been there since 6am and were in good spirits, as 90% of their members were respecting the picket lines.
Across this and other central London picket lines there was anger and frustration that civil servants were facing massive cuts to their terms and conditions whilst bankers' bonuses were still being paid out of government money.
The Socialist party leaflets were generally well received with two copies of the Socialist sold at the picket line outside the Ombudsman's office picket line at Millbank.