Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/16341
PCS national strike on Budget Day - 20 March
Reports from the pickets and rallies
Once again central London is dotted everywhere with the yellow and blue of PCS flags and placards. Karen at the Highways Agency thought that as pay packets are hit, more workers will realise that they have no choice but to fight.
One picket at the Passport Office said: "I normally hate getting up early but this morning I thought 'great!'.
Strikers felt that the PCS plan of three months of a campaign of action and trying to coordinate with other unions is what's necessary.
Everyone I spoke to thinks there should be a one-day general strike and agreed with the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) lobby of the TUC general council on Wednesday 24 April that has been called to urge the TUC to name the date for a general strike.
Catering staff for the House of Lords were in a defiant mood. Catering staff throughout parliament have already suffered £100,000 worth of cuts and are now being told they have to suffer further cuts in overtime rates and terms and conditions.
The staff have to work 14 or 15 hours a day to provide subsidised food for MPs and the Lords. The lowest paid are on only £900 a month, working a 40-hour week.
Meanwhile the members of the House of Lords get an attendance allowance of £300 a week just for turning up, plus a £54 a day meal allowance! No surprise the pickets were determined to take further action - hitting parliament in its stomach - if the government doesn't retreat.
Most civil service workplaces had picket lines this morning, including three at the government environment and climate change department which has seen PCS membership almost double over the last few years albeit starting from a low level as a new department.
The mood among pickets was determined and they were glad to be out on strike but they were very frustrated with the leaders of other unions who have not come out today or even called further national action. The teachers' unions who coordinated with PCS last year were particularly mentioned.
Every picket took a leaflet for the NSSN conference taking place on 29 June, some taking handfuls to distribute. Many already knew about it or were on the NSSN mailing list. This is because these trade unionists understand the role of the NSSN to support and build on PCS's appeal to other unions to join it in strike action in June.
The welcome was overwhelmingly warm for support from socialists and on Whitehall alone we sold 12 copies of the Socialist paper, many for the £2 solidarity price.
Sarah Sachs Eldridge
Homes and Communities Agency
Outside the Maple House office on Tottenham Court Road, housing workers in the Unite union were also striking and picketing, in coordination with the national PCS strike. The Unite workers were striking against a divisive and inequitable pay offer.
30-plus Unite and PCS workers were on the picket line. PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh, Unite branch secretary Suzanne Muna and Unite regional secretary Pete Kavanagh spoke to the strikers and supporters. Strikers were keen to sign the NSSN general strike petition to make sure other unions join them in taking action next time.
Pete Kavanagh said: "Why wouldn't workers strike on Budget Day?". Buses and lorries on Tottenham Court Road tooted their support.
Paul Kershaw and Sarah Wrack
There was a very good mood on the picket line at Leytonstone Jobcentre. The district manager turned up and was berated by pickets about their working conditions during which a member of the public about to use the Jobcentre stopped to give support. It is a 80-90% unionised workplace.
PCS placard in Bristol, 20.3.13, photo Tom Baldwin
"Absolutely solid" was the pickets' verdict at Settles Street NINO (national insurance number processing centre). "It'll be tumbleweed in this office today" said one of them.
Only 14 out of 106 people that normally work there went in, in a workplace with 85 union members.
Staff are angry not only at management's attempts to rip up their terms and conditions and the plans to cut 7% of the staff budget for NINO offices nationwide next year, but also at the so-called "streamlining" of checking documents of people who apply for national insurance numbers that has been pushed through by government in the past year.
This means less thorough checks and more chance for people applying fraudulently to get through.
PCS members explained that there has been a 22% increase over the last year in applications using other people's ID to get national insurance numbers, and that every fraudulent ID created costs an estimated £85,000 to the UK, including the public and private sector.
Strikers are determined to take the fight to the government, and were looking forward to the half-day strike on Friday 5 April, when PCS members will walk out at 1pm.
At Hackney DWP in Wilton Way, picketer Sharon said: "I hope the strike will be well supported today. We want to let them know they can't play with our pay and conditions.
"For years I've accepted being paid lower than the lowest in the private sector. The pay-off was going to be having a reasonable pension at a reasonable age.
"That's gone. I have worked in the civil service for 37 years. As a single mother I have had to pay the same bills as two people would in other households.
"That's why I get fed up when other people say they can't afford to come out on strike.
"The lack of media publicity for our strike is par for the course. They're not interested in our problems; we're just civil servants!"
Another of the pickets - from a Cypriot background - said if people going onto the streets in Nicosia can get their government to reverse its decisions, "We can do it here!".
Picketers at Hoxton Jobcentre were in a defiant mood and were pleased that most of the PCS members in the office were out on strike. Some of the few that went into work had argued that they couldn't lose a day's pay in order to strike; Those on the picket line countered: 'They'll lose a lot more than a day's pay as a result of the government's attacks if we don't stop them'.
When the Royal Mail van pulled up to deliver the day's post, the driver promptly put the mail back in the van when a PCS rep asked him not to cross the picket line.
Solid strike action by PCS members across Swansea and South West Wales meant most offices were fully closed or providing a limited service.
Torrential rain didn't dampen the determined spirit of those on the picket lines. Carrie Anne Watkins, branch organiser for the large Pensions Centre in Swansea reflected the mood of the dozen or so on the picket line when she said: 'This is not just about pay but it's about the ongoing attacks on our conditions as well'.
At the huge DVLA office, Dave Warren, PCS branch officer, echoed a similar sentiment but added that the Con-Dems attacks on facility time for trade union reps means that he is facing a cut of 50% in the time that he is allowed to represent union members!
There was a strong picket line at the Land Registry where PCS rep Liz said that the government is determined to privatise Land Registry because they are actually making money!
Socialist Party members also visited picket lines at the DWP in Llanelli, as well as other offices in the town and also in Carmarthen and other parts of West Wales.
As one picket thanked us for our solidarity and support she reminded us that this was the first round of action and expected to see us again on 5th April!
From a PCS press release at midday:
Early strike day highlights
- All seven museums in Wales are closed today and as 95% of PCS members at National Museums Liverpool have joined the action the Maritime Museum and World Museum have closed for the day.
- Business at the National Assembly in Wales has been severely curtailed today because of the effects of the strike. Labour and Plaid Cymru politicians won't attend the Senedd because they won't cross picket lines.
- A significant number of rooms are likely to be closed at the British Library because of PCS industrial action. Only paid exhibitions are being kept open and most public events for the day have been cancelled.
- DVLA public offices in Scotland are closed today.
- The Information Commissioner's Office is closed to visitors for the day as well as the helpline, with more than 90% of staff striking.
- 70% of Border Force officers at Liverpool airport are on strike.
- Nottingham Crown Court is reduced to one court and there is no phone service.
- At the headquarters of the Department for Work and Pensions - 80% of members are out, and one in three staff in the building are not working today.
- No service today at Companies House in Cardiff. No incorporation of new companies and no IT support.
- Home Office Midlands and Wales reps estimated 92% of members are on strike.
- Reports of best supported strike ever at HMRC Grayfield House Office, Edinburgh and 95% out at Glasgow Benefits Centre and Glasgow Passport Office.
- Asylum interviews cancelled in Yorkshire and north east.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "What this strike shows today is that PCS members are determined to show the government they will not be not forced to accept having their pay frozen, their terms and conditions slashed while the chancellor plots to increase the pain on the public sector with further cuts.
"The latest set of employment figures are the latest evidence that austerity isn't working and there is an alternative to cutting the living standards of hard-working public servants create jobs and growth.
"We are calling for meaningful talks on fundamental issues surrounding pay and terms and conditions and we hope the government gets the message loud and clear."
Maidstone Jobcentre had seven pickets, the strike was solid despite years of no pickets. Across Kent more DWP offices have solid pickets than before.
People crossed our pickets but almost all of them said they were impressed by what we've achieved. Fraternal greetings were sent to everyone taking action today.
Rally outside parliament
House of Lords caterer John speaking to the rally outside parliament, 20.3.13, photo by Sarah Sachs Eldridge (Click to enlarge)
Boooo! That was the response from the 500-strong rally of PCS strikers to the appearance of Tory Chancellor George Osborne on the big screen outside parliament.
While he lied and spun his way to making more cuts, inspiring speeches were made by striking workers and labour movement leaders.
First time striker John represented the caterers in the House of Lords. On the picket line supporters heard that caterers are on £900 a month while Lords members get £300 a month for 'subsistence' just for turning up to work.
John said it was better for him and the workers he represents to lose a day's pay out on strike than to lose money through government attacks on pay and conditions.
Labour MP John McDonnell brought warm greetings of solidarity saying he was happier being with the pickets than in parliament.
He condemned the vote yesterday when the House voted against compensation for those sanctioned under workfare.
He called for the building of solidarity action and then corrected himself: "Let's call it by its proper name - we need a general strike".
Mark Serwotka called for coordinated strike action and welcomed that the NUT teachers' union has set strike dates.
Lee Vernon, Socialist Party and PCS member, gave a rousing speech and clearly made the case for a 24-hour general strike.
On the picket lines there was overwhelming support for this - PCS members are determined to fight against all attacks but know that the fight must be linked with other unions.
As Lee said, this has got to be a fight against all the cuts and that requires the mobilisation of the full power of the trade union movement.
Sarah Sachs Eldridge
There were PCS picket lines at all the main civil service workplaces in Bristol. Despite cold weather and an early start, pickets were buoyed by the strength of the strike to defend jobs, pay and conditions and protect services.
While George Osborne was announcing further attacks on ordinary people from the comfort of parliament, 60 people joined a local strike rally.
Solidarity greetings were brought from the TUC, many other unions and the Bristol and District Anti-Cuts Alliance, showing the potential for a much wider fightback.
Virtually every person who spoke called for workers to stand together in defence of their living standards and take the fight to the Tories with a general strike.
Many were also critical of New Labour's acceptance of the "need" to cut. Speaking from the platform Socialist Party members John McInally and Tom Baldwin both raised the need for the working class to have its own party that consistently opposes austerity, a point echoed by other speakers.
Jude Jackson, PCS Land Registry, Leicester said:
"The vast majority of us are out today. We're on strike for a proper pay rise that we've not had for well over four years. 20% of the value of our wages has been wiped off. The value of our pensions has gone down as well.
We're having our terms and conditions attacked and we're facing privatisation, a 'commercial model' for the Land Registry.
They're looking to put all our data online so that private firms can use it. We're looking at a 1,000 job losses, that's one in four workers.
None of the mainstream parties are going to defend us; we're being shot back to the 1930s. It's a good reason to fight, we have no choice now. We need more of this action."
Thousands of civil servants took strike action across Lincolnshire. The industrial action caused disruption to government offices such as jobcentres, tax offices, courts and prisons.
Nick Parker, secretary of the PCS DWP Lincolnshire and Rutland branch, said: "Millionaire chancellor George Osborne has announced further real-terms pay cuts to the wages of public servants.
"Hundreds of thousands of PCS members have sent a resounding message that his austerity policies are failing and that PCS members won't stay quiet when we are being punished for an economic crisis that we didn't cause."
The action saw picket lines across the county, including at several jobcentres, courts and call centres.
A rally then took place in Lincoln High Street where PCS members took their case to the public. It will be followed up by an overtime ban and a half-day strike on Friday 5th April.
At the PCS picket line at Station Street Jobcentre, Nottingham, strikers said:
"We've had pay restraint for eight years now, which is a 25% cut in real terms in our living standards. We've lost 20,000 staff in three years. The job is getting harder and harder.
"The strike though isn't just about us, it's also about how we deliver a service to the public. The quality of service is in danger; staff are under pressure to punish people for being out of work or sick, and that's all wrong. Everyone will suffer if these cuts carry on".