Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/473/2048
Mark Serwotka says
"This is just the beginning of the campaign"
HUNDREDS OF thousands of civil and public service union (PCS) members were out in force on strike on 31 January. They were fighting government plans to cut and relocate jobs, worsen working conditions and make below-inflation pay offers while the government is spending billions of pounds on private consultants. Ken Smith spoke to Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary.
"WE'RE DELIGHTED with the response. We estimate over 200,000 civil servants are on strike today. Having been round London all morning, I've seen picket lines out in force.
"We've been told of everyone supporting the strike from immigration staff walking out at Calais at midnight through to court staff, Department for Work and Pensions, Revenue, Customs and Excise and major museums and galleries.
"We haven't seen any movement from management yet. In the last 48 hours they sent very provocative letters to staff, trying to induce them to strike-break. Management are waiting to see what happens but today we've delivered an unequivocal message.
"We'll try and get them round the negotiating table. Our message is that if they're not seriously prepared to engage, this is just the beginning of a campaign. We will escalate the campaign if the government won't talk seriously. So, it's in everyone's interests to start negotiating.
"We now have a two-week overtime ban. We're getting all our reps together on 13 February to consult about further action. We anticipate further industrial action over pay very soon.
"We also intend to make a major intervention into the May elections, contacting all candidates in local, Scottish and Welsh elections asking where they stand on the issue of public services and urging our members to make their vote count.
"I would hope that the call for a national demonstration to defend public-sector workers - that I made at last week's TUC public services lobby - could become a reality. The response at last week's rally was overwhelming.
"Ordinary public-sector workers cheered at the prospect of a united demonstration or a public-sector day of action. I hope that all the public-sector unions will make common cause.
"Whether it's health, education, local government or the civil service, public-sector workers and users are getting a real raw deal. The more we stand together, the more chance we have of making progress."
From the picket line
IN NEWCASTLE, Fran Heathcote, PCS DWP group organiser (speaking in a personal capacity) said: "I'm really chuffed, It's not just about reps, but rank and file members. We've had new members joining in droves."
A worker from Seaham Pension Centre told the socialist: "We've got good support, solid. We have a lot of fixed-term contract workers in our office without the same trade union ethos, but they have just started and I'm confident we can win them over. At this stage they don't understand the full extent of the attacks, but today's action will help bring it home to them."
At Manchester Valuation office Kath McKinnon explained how 24 jobs have gone in the Stockport and Salford workplaces. "It's about stopping job cuts across the civil service. The government keep chipping away and privatising things. We think by keeping services public we can do it cheaper and more efficiently and give a better level of service."
21 PCS members in the Department of Constitutional Affairs were on the Hereford Magistrates court picket line. At Redditch County Court a sign went up: 'Closed due to industrial action'.
At Oxford Inland Revenue office, anger over cuts, privatisation and low pay has lead over 90% of the workforce to join unions. Breathtaking government incompetence means the Inland Revenue has saved £105 million increasing efficiency but achieved this by spending £106 million on consultants.
At Tunbridge Wells Land Registry, a PCS rep said industrial action was the only way to oppose the decimation of the civil service as proposed by the Lyons and Gershon reviews. They were angry at Gordon Brown's attempt to hold public-sector pay at a level that does not reflect the increase in the cost of living.
In Whitehall, central London, a PCS rep at the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) said: "I want to work in Whitehall, not in West Wing. That's what it's becoming here, there's so many outsiders and consultants that it's changing the whole character of the place. There's some very large companies running the top of the civil service. That's worrying to us when all the jobs are going.
"Job cuts have serious effects. When people go, the workload increases and there's not enough people to do it so more people are off with stress and people are unhappy and demoralised. I voted for the strike and continuous action and really that's what we need."
In Southampton pickets were sick of cuts in public services and enthusiastic about standing candidates in the May local elections as a Left alternative to Labour. Many signed the Campaign for a New Workers Party petition.
In The Socialist 7 February 2007:
Civil servants' strike
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis