Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/678/12347
Fighting pension cuts and the anti-union laws
Interview with Prison Officers Association (POA) assistant secretary
An important part of the action on 30 June was the well-attended lunchtime protest meetings held outside many prisons by the POA.
Joe Simpson, POA assistant secretary, spoke to Alison Hill about the action and the POA's strategy.
POA members are extremely angry. Not just at the changes to our pensions but making us work longer, until we're 66., Do you think there is a mood for further action?
Oh yes. We're in the process of balloting our members to see whether they want to take the appropriate action to defend their pension rights. [The ballot result will be announced on 20 July].
The union is facing privatisation as well isn't it, with Birmingham first on the list?
We're expecting another six to eight prisons to be earmarked for market testing within the next few weeks. Plus we're also dealing with prison closures. Three have closed already. And we're expecting an announcement soon about more closures.
How does the government justify that, in view of prison overcrowding?
They say that because the prison population is going down, which it is, that they can afford to close prisons. What we're arguing as a union is that they're not tackling the overcrowding issue. They keep saying that prisons should be decent and humane and we fully support that. But we say act upon what you're saying. Let's stop locking two or more prisoners up in cells that were built for one.
All they're interested in is reducing the amount of money they spend within the public sector prison service. So they have a dual strategy of cutting the public sector prisons and privatising as much as possible.
We say if it's the state's responsibility to judge its citizens then surely it's the state's responsibility to rehabilitate them. But they're happy to give that to the private sector.
They say to the private companies - we're going to give you a lot of money to run this prison but we also want you to run a rehabilitation programme so prisoners don't come back. In effect what they're saying is - your contract could run for 25 years but if you're successful it could only run for five.
A private sector company is only in it to make profits for its shareholders so where does rehabilitation and privatisation fit? We want to be part of the rehabilitation of offenders but leave us in the public sector, it is a public duty.
I understand the private sector company is threatening job cuts at Birmingham prison.
Yes, they've said there will be 123 job losses right across the prison. This could involve other unions like PCS, GMB and Unite.
This is big news. This is the coalition government's flagship on the criminal justice system. All of a sudden it's payment for results. If you rehabilitate an offender you rehabilitate him for life. So when is this private company going to get paid - on the death of the offender if they haven't reoffended? It's a gimmick. What incentive would a private company give an offender to stay out of trouble? They make more money if they come back to prison.
You're talking about an average across the country of £40,000 to keep a prisoner in custody for a year. Which private company will turn that down if they can make a profit on it? It's easy money, especially if they can just lock people up all day.
Our fear as a union is that it will become like America. They're going to start warehousing prisoners. So where does Cameron's big society fit in?
The POA is balloting at the moment, what's the next step?
This coalition government and Labour as well are looking at strengthening the industrial relations and strike laws.
We're the guinea pigs. The rest of the trade union movement should take a long look at what we've gone through since 1994. As soon as we do a ballot with the word 'strike' in it we're off into the high court for an injunction. We've been told they will smash this union.
We'll be considering the ballot result and what the other unions do. We've already shown mutual solidarity. But if it come comes down to it there'll be nothing to stop POA members taking the necessary action again. It will come to the stage of 'put up or shut up'.
In The Socialist 6 July 2011:
30th June strike and after
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