Dave Semple speaking at Wigan Rally. Photo: North West SP
Dave Semple speaking at Wigan Rally. Photo: North West SP

Dave Semple, PCS branch secretary Wigan (personal capacity)

On 28 February, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announced strike ballot results for sections of the UK and devolved Welsh civil service.

With thumping majorities, 33,000 workers in key areas such as Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Welsh Government have announced their intention to join the 100,000 other civil servants taking national strike action on 15 March.

Cuts to pay – a 2% pay rise in 2022 compared to 10% inflation – as well as ongoing attacks on civil service pensions, redundancy rights and jobs, are driving anger across the civil service. This is not limited to Westminster; both the Scottish and Welsh civil service are in revolt.

Pay is so low in Westminster departments that, in April 2023, pay for key operational grades will fall below the national minimum wage.

 It is not just PCS that is winning ballots in the civil service. Prospect, representing technical and specialist grades, declared ballot results on 27 February, with 72% of members voting in the ballot and 80% voting for strike action. Prospect will strike on 15 March.

FDA, the union for senior civil servants, has balloted members in the ‘fast stream’ accelerated-promotion scheme, and these too have voted for action.

The government is clearly interested in dividing unions; it offers talks to some and stonewalls others. The civil service unions should not play this game; they should come together to plan serious joint action. 15 March should be day one of united, escalating, national strikes.

PCS has been engaged in selective strike action since December, with small groups of members receiving strike pay for going on strike for longer than a few days. No movement has resulted on 2022 pay as of yet, so it is time to consider intensification of action.

After the success of national action on 1 February, and the boost to members’ confidence, there is scope to discuss seriously across the union how that intensification is delivered.

The national civil service reballot in PCS begins on 20 March, in order to be completed by the end of the first six months’ mandate for action, on 7 May. Socialist Party members in PCS, like reps across the union, will throw themselves unstintingly into winning this.

A clear programme of national strike action, a worked-out plan to unite civil service unions in action, and a thorough discussion across PCS about how the national leadership can support branches to deliver more national strike action – all of these would serve only to boost confidence, aid victory in the impending national re-ballot, and deliver a massive blow to the government’s hopes of waiting us out.