The Socialist 27 June 2012
Hypocrites! Tories bash benefits, rich let off the hook
HMRC members show their opposition to another round of job cuts and privatisation
A PCS member working in Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members have again supported action to defend jobs and services in Revenue and Customs with a day's strike on 25 June.
The latest revelations about the tax-dodging escapades of the rich and famous emphasise the damage being done through the government's agenda of cuts and privatisation in the very department that could close tax loopholes if properly resourced and staffed.
The PCS have launched the Tax Justice for All campaign in order to fight a further 10,000 jobs going in HMRC. 30,000 jobs have gone already.
Even by the estimate of the public accounts committee this has resulted in HMRC losing the ability to collect £1.1 billion in tax.
This figure will only increase if the government and the department ploughs ahead with its cuts programme.
This strike will be the springboard for a longer term strategy of workplace campaigning, backed with further action and activity - as well as supporting our national campaign on pensions. Building strong and united union branches will be key to winning this campaign.
Demands of the campaign
The demands of the campaign are:
The union is also campaigning against the use of private companies Teleperformance and Sitel in HMRC call centres.
These multinationals are undercutting trade union pay and conditions by employing staff on inferior conditions and paying them at least £3,000 less than the average earned by HMRC workers. PCS are organising to recruit these workers and fight for improved conditions.
The government argues that as public sector jobs are run down, more jobs will be created in the private sector. But PCS members are highlighting the nature of some of these new private sector jobs.
The PCS campaign also encourages members to get involved in organising local activity and present our arguments to their local MP. These are outlined in the new report by Richard Murphy, the TUC's adviser on taxation: Why are they increasing the tax gap?
We say: protect and invest in jobs, end the private sector involvement in HMRC, tax collection and a tax system in the interests of the millions, not the millionaires.
End financial inequality by closing tax loopholes that allow the rich to avoid paying £120 billion in tax each year. Finally we support the TUC demonstration against austerity on 20 October.
At the recent National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference, over 500 workers from the public and private sector agreed a plan of action to ensure the 20 October national demonstration is bigger and better than the one on 26 March.
The demand was raised that this needs to be followed with a 24-hour general strike, involving both the private and public sector, to force this government to reverse its austerity programme.
Today we had good support for the strike, especially at Wingfield House which has been notified for closure, with about 80% supporting the action.
Dave Hansford, Portsdown and Vectis Revenue and Customs Branch, PCS branch campaigns organiser and vice chair
On 23 May we received notification of office closure, which would mean over 500 staff moving to nearby Lynx House. Given how little office space there is, this is clearly not true.
We have discovered the total staff figures for March 2015 would mean losing 420 staff, over a third of the total.
This would be one of the biggest cuts nationally. We want to continue our campaign in defence of jobs, which we think is the best way to galvanise support.
The total cut to HMRC of 10,000 jobs makes no sense. Official figures show a tax gap of £35 to 40 billion uncollected.
PCS research suggests an even bigger figure of over £120 billion a year uncollected. Even the government admitted extra staff equals extra money in revenue.
We have campaigned over the impact to Portsmouth city centre of losing such a large number of jobs. Wingfield House is in the Charles Dickens ward, a highly deprived ward with large numbers of claimants using the enquiry centre.
Lynx House is over three miles away which for those on benefits, tax credit claimants and pensioners will be much harder accessing our services."
Kevin McHugh, PCS national deputy president, spoke to Elaine Brunskill on the picket line at Longbenton.
The strike is against privatisation and HMRC office closures. In Sunderland both the offices are closing, which means people needing advice on tax credits or national insurance will be put through to a call centre.
In Scotland and Cumbria they've taken on workers from private companies. These workers are being paid £3,000 less, virtually on minimum wage, and are given minimal training.
The private contracts are draconian. PCS has nothing against these workers, but we want them taken on as civil servants, and on the same wages and conditions."
Kevin also told how he'd been on local radio, where Peter Jackson, the leader of the Tory group on Northumberland county council, claimed the HMRC strike was a political strike at the behest of the Labour Party. Kevin said: " I pointed out that PCS is not affiliated to the Labour Party, and does not pay them a penny!"
Kevin ended by saying: "This is to defend public services and to bring an end to tax avoidance. Each HMRC tax officer collects £660,000 per year.
"We've lost 20,000 jobs already, and the government plans another 10,000 job losses by 2015.
Cutting tax jobs will make it easier for large corporations and wealthy individuals to fiddle their tax."
Very few of the 250 PCS members at the Swansea HMRC offices turned up for work. Pickets were pleased by the response of members to the attacks of the Con-Dem government on their jobs and conditions.
With 40% of the workforce in Swansea employed in the public sector, support for HMRC workers is widespread across the city and was highlighted by the warm response of other workers.
HMRC PCS members on the picket line in Leicester, photo by Leicester Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
Hundreds of HMRC staff joined the strike in Leicester. PCS rep Alex Morgan said: "While David Cameron is busy moralising about tax justice, his party in government is in the process of privatising HMRC call centres and cutting HMRC jobs, the very people who collect tax revenue for the country.
"If the government wants to get serious about tax avoidance they should invest heavily in all areas of HMRC, preserving jobs in the civil service so that the necessary money can come into the public coffers to be spent on vital public services."
In a promising sign of private sector solidarity with public workers, a bin lorry refused to cross the picket line.
PCS members say they will also be offering support to the workers preparing for further strike action over redundancy agreements at the local RF Brookes factory.
In Shipley I received a warm reception from all the PCS reps picketing outside their office. Reps were angry about a whole number of issues, from job cuts (around 10,000 to go in HMRC) to the tax avoidance of the rich which will only increase as a result of these cuts.
There was also a lot of anger about Cameron's latest plans to cut housing benefit for under-25s.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 26 June 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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