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Posted on 7 January 2014 at 12:24 GMT

Two PCS strikes in East London on both sides of New Year

Naomi Byron reports on two PCS strikes in East London

National Insurance centre

National Insurance number centre strike, 2.1.14, photo by Naomi Byron

National Insurance number centre strike, 2.1.14, photo by Naomi Byron   (Click to enlarge)

PCS members at the national insurance number processing centre in Tower Hamlets struck on Thursday 2 January over Christmas and New Year leave. 89% had voted in favour of industrial action on a 63% turnout in a local ballot.

The strike was solid. Only two out of 50 interview staff crossed the picket line, the only other people in the office were managers.

"Throughout the year members have had tougher working conditions. We're expected to deal with more customers, breaks have been removed, pensions are being cut and our pay is being restricted", said one picket, "members feel the least local management could do is allow staff more time off while it's quiet.

"The dispute is totally unnecessary, at this time of year staff should be at home, recuperating and spending time with friends and family. However management have decided to dig their heels in.

"Demand for appointments over the last two weeks has dropped by 35% and no more than a handful of people have appointments today. On a normal day it's 550. Management and the media are arguing that Romanians and Bulgarians are going to flood the country from the beginning of January. We don't necessarily agree with that view, but if management expect us to be much busier in January you'd have thought they'd be prepared to give staff time off now."

Police control centre

East London police control centre strike, 31.12.13, photo by Naomi Byron

East London police control centre strike, 31.12.13, photo by Naomi Byron   (Click to enlarge)

PCS members braved the rain outside the East London police control centre on New Year's Eve, striking for fair pay for civilian staff in the Metropolitan police. It's decades since civilian staff in the police took strike action, but their action was well supported. At 7am there were only four people in the control centre answering calls when there would normally be around 15.

Strikers handed out leaflets to inform the public about the dispute. You could see a lot of people doing a double take, when they realised it was about strike action in the Met.

The response from police officers was interesting. Some were annoyed at being told to come in and work in the control centre because of the strike, but most made supportive comments. It's less than a year since 81% of police officers voted in favour of their own right to strike in a ballot organised by the Police Federation.

Pickets said 'it's a shame that the Met police have forced PCS members into this situation and that they would rather backfill our posts with expensive police officers than pay us a fair wage. What we're asking for wouldn't cost taxpayers anything; there's plenty of money in the Met, they just don't want to spend it on the people that provide the service'.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 7 January 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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