NAPO AGM, October 2013, photo by C Berry

NAPO AGM, October 2013, photo by C Berry   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Probation officers vote for strike action

Chas Berry , Chair, Kent branch, NAPO

Members of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) have voted overwhelmingly for strike action over government plans to privatise the probation service.

Announcing the result to around 500 members at NAPO’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Llandudno, general secretary Ian Lawrence described the 84% ‘yes’ vote as a “clear mandate” for action.

Unions representing 18,000 probation workers have been trying to reach agreement with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) since it announced its Transforming Rehabilitation agenda in May.

But constant interference by Secretary of State Chris Grayling, whose Machiavellian approach to negotiations has been compared to the Simpson’s character Montgomery Burns, means that industrial action seems almost inevitable.

Visiting speakers

The confidence of members was boosted by the comments of Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), who pledged action in support of striking NAPO members, many of whom work alongside prison officers in custodial settings.

Given that the POA is banned from calling official action his remarks show how seriously his members view the privatisation of the probation service, and the need to link it with the struggle against prison privatisation.

Similarly, a message of support from PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, whose members in the MoJ are also in dispute, lifted the sights of members as to the potential for coordinated strike action to defeat the government.

Reckless plans

Grayling’s acolyte, parliamentary under-secretary Jeremy Wright, accuses NAPO of putting the public at risk by our action and states there are “contingency plans in place” to deal with any disruption of the service.

Our response is that Grayling and his reckless plans are the biggest threat to public safety. Ignoring all professional advice, even from some in his own party with legal backgrounds, he is hell-bent on driving through this privatisation.

Probation workers are determined to defeat him and concerted action across the justice sector will disrupt his attempts at a smooth transition whatever contingency plans he may try to put in place.

Pressure is mounting on ‘failing Grayling’ and this weak coalition government, and broader questions are being asked about the nature of the crisis we face including the question of political representation.

Members have no illusions that a future Labour government would re-nationalise the service and, in an echo of debates elsewhere in the movement, voted to support campaigns of civil disobedience.

32 copies of the Socialist were sold and 400 leaflets promoting the Socialist Party and Socialism 2013 were distributed.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 21 October 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.