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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 March 2014

Probation workers to strike again

Chas Berry, Kent Napo branch chair, personal capacity

Around 400 members of the probation workers' union Napo met in Birmingham last week where a second national strike in our campaign to defeat privatisation was announced.

The action takes place from 31 March to 1 April. It happens at a critical time, when Probation Trusts are being wound up and many will be asking whether it's too late to stop the privatisation bandwagon.

Our answer to this question is unequivocally "no"! Although staff have been told whether they will transfer to a government-owned Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) or become civil servants in a drastically smaller National Probation Service (NPS), no jobs have yet gone over to the private sector and plans to do so are in serious jeopardy.

Already the privatisation timetable has slipped by two months as it was deemed 'too risky' by the senior civil servant advising justice secretary Chris Grayling.

Members' resolve in taking strike action last November and action short of a strike since then has been crucial in causing this delay.

Without this resolve, Grayling would have ploughed ahead last summer and the privateers would be rubbing their hands with glee.

Privatisation plans are in chaos and the profit hungry private contractors must be wondering how they could ever make money with such a non-compliant workforce!

Napo has done well to sustain this pressure but how can we ensure that the whole of probation remains in the public sector? Undoubtedly, the decision of Unison and the GMB to settle their separate disputes is a setback for coordinated action and it cannot be denied that we have lost some momentum since our last strike.

Nevertheless, Napo's strength has been its willingness to take an independent position.

General secretary Ian Lawrence acknowledged the central importance of collective action to our strategy when he said: "We stand together or fall together... that has to be the rallying cry from here on in as we seek to show society and Chris Grayling what we are truly about".

And when he addressed the 2,000-strong legal aid protest outside parliament he called for joint action when Napo strikes on 31 March and 1 April. Members have been buoyed up by this action and the prospect of teachers on strike later this month.

Looking beyond 31 May when Probation Trusts shut down, it seems clear that the focus of the campaign will shift, with a new mandate for action in the CRCs to take the fight all the way up to the planned share sale in October.

We should also be talking to PCS and Unison about how we can coordinate future action across a range of issues such as pay and pensions.

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In The Socialist 13 March 2014:


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