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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 June 2018

Civil service pay strike ballot: vote yes! Smash the cap!

PCS members, including assistant general secretary Chris Baugh (centre), with NSSN chair Rob Williams (left), outside the Tower of London for the 31 January PCS pay day protests., photo Paula Mitchell

PCS members, including assistant general secretary Chris Baugh (centre), with NSSN chair Rob Williams (left), outside the Tower of London for the 31 January PCS pay day protests., photo Paula Mitchell   (Click to enlarge)

The PCS union, which organises workers across the civil service, launches a statutory ballot for strike action on 18 June. After years of real-terms pay cuts, the union is demanding a fully funded above-inflation increase.
Under the Tories' anti-union laws, the ballot - which can only be by post - requires at least a 50% turnout. These undemocratic obstacles are a big challenge. But the UCU and CWU unions have beaten them for national action, as has PCS in specific disputes.
Chris Baugh is a Socialist Party member and longstanding PCS activist who has been the union's assistant general secretary since 2004. The Socialist spoke to him in a personal capacity about the ballot.

Why is PCS balloting for strikes?

This ballot is a vital step to force the government to negotiate with PCS. A decisive 'yes' vote will give us the mandate we need to end the pay cap and secure fully funded pay increases. It will restore our right, as a union, to bargain on behalf of all our members affected by yet another year of Tory pay restraint.

Despite making pay settlements elsewhere in the public sector above the 1% cap, and despite the pay increases won by PCS for our members working for the Scottish government, we find ourselves yet again treated as the poor relations of the public sector.

PCS will continue to work for the widest coordinated action across unions wherever we can. But we can't wait for this to happen. The justice of our pay claim, and the government's vindictive treatment of its own employees, make this ballot one of the most important in the union's 20-year history.

By taking the case into every workplace and every corner of the union, we can win not just the over-50% turnout legally required, but the decisive mandate for action that is needed to force the government to negotiate with us.

Do you think PCS can win the ballot?

Yes. A decade of pay freezes and caps have cut the real value of members' pay. This has caused untold hardship and misery across the public sector, with workers struggling to make ends meet.

Our members are not prepared to put up with this treatment any longer. I am confident this will be expressed in the pay ballot, and support for industrial action if that is what it takes.

The government's hard-line stance - and DWP management withholding pay rises already agreed under the 'Employee Deal' - will only anger members further. It's our task to translate that huge sense of grievance into a massive yes vote, and confound a government acting with contempt for its own workers.

PCS contingent on the 12 May TUC demo

PCS contingent on the 12 May 2018 TUC demo   (Click to enlarge)

The consultative ballot we ran in November last year recorded the biggest ever PCS vote for action - in turnout, only a fraction below the 50% threshold. This has given us a solid platform for winning a statutory ballot.

We are applying the lessons of the recent disputes involving our sister unions in Royal Mail and the universities, by working with the union's extensive and committed network of reps to mobilise our membership.

Will talks succeed - or will the union need to strike?

I'm part of the national pay negotiating team. We have patiently and tenaciously argued our case to government and senior Cabinet Office officials.

The 'Treasury Remit' - which sets the parameters for bargaining across the 200-plus areas covered - has yet to be published. But unless the employer indicates a change of heart, the government has effectively closed down serious negotiations around our reasonable pay increase claim - 5% or 1,200 flat rate, whichever is greater, with 10-an-hour minimum protection for our lowest-paid members.

They have yet to give a commitment to negotiate on the content of the Treasury Remit, and have offered only a vague promise of talks later in 2018. It's crystal clear that while we continue to press for serious talks, the priority is to deliver the ballot result - and prepare the ground for the type of industrial action that is going to be needed.

What type of action are you planning?

This is for the union's democratic leadership, the national executive committee, to decide - after close consultation and planning with union groups and activists.

It will be important to demonstrate support across PCS with strikes across the civil service as a whole - as part of a programme of sustained, group-based and targeted action.

Groups organised in all the major government departments, agencies and public bodies have a critical role to play. First in campaigning for a yes vote. Also in challenging offers short of our pay claim. And in identifying the types of industrial action that can best apply pressure - action that has members' support, and has a serious disruptive effect on the employer.

Those members involved in targeted action will need solidarity and support from the whole union, including building up our fighting fund to help give a level of financial support to those taking the action. We shouldn't underestimate the potential impact of this kind of action, and this will be very important in building confidence that we can win.

This can be supported by a range of protests and actions short of strike, as well as a systematic campaign of political lobbying at Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff, and in MPs' constituencies.

Civil service workers speak out

PCS members in Bristol demonstrating against the government's pay cap, photo Roger Thomas

PCS members in Bristol demonstrating against the government's pay cap, photo Roger Thomas   (Click to enlarge)

The pay campaign is important for me as every month I find myself with too many bills at the end of my pay. As a rep I also hear from my members who struggle with bills - some even spending over 90% of their pay on bills, and that's without children to care for.

I don't know how AO or even EO bands in HMRC, especially with children, manage to make ends meet. This is a result of our pay being held down and capped at 1% for over seven years while inflation, the cost of living, continues to soar. I don't want to go on strike - I need to go on strike.

Jaime Davies, PCS rep, HMRC Wales (personal capacity)

The DVLA branch Facebook group is fizzing with angry comments about the way we've been treated. We've been ignored and taken for granted for too long. All our reps are determined to get a big yes vote in this ballot, and if we are called on to strike, we will deliver.

Dave Warren, PCS rep, DVLA (personal capacity)

This disgraceful decision not to pay what we are due in July is a slap in the face to those working in the DWP, who have long awaited any increase to our low wages. It will be especially painful for those who had budgeted for the promised increases for childcare costs over the summer.

But an understanding of the need to get involved and vote in the ballot is not lost on our members - whose anger at this, and job insecurity, alongside years of pay restraint, will mean we have a real chance at smashing the 50% threshold needed.

PCS rep, DWP fixed-term appointment

PCS members in conciliation service Acas, part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), have just suspended action as a result of a successful strike.

We delivered a 65% turnout in that ballot and have gone on to win concessions. I am confident we can do the same in this national ballot, and deliver a resounding yes for breaking the cap. More than that, we will show this government we are prepared to knock down all the barriers they put up, including their 50% threshold.

Marion Lloyd, PCS BEIS group president (personal capacity)

Across the culture group, low pay is endemic. Years of austerity mean the majority of our members struggle to afford basic commodities or housing. Each museum negotiates pay at local level and privatisation means there are several private employers paying low pay too. The national campaign on pay is crucial to bring back some fairness on pay.

Years of budget cuts not only mean pay restraints on museum workers employed directly by the government agencies, and on those employed via contractors. It also means privatisation, job losses and cuts in terms and conditions. The pay ballot is a key step to unity across departments and agencies. We need more funding for pay, no question.

We call on all PCS members to take part in the ballot and support industrial action on pay. We need 10 an hour as a minimum for all workers and a decent pay rise for all.

Clara Paillard, PCS culture group president (personal capacity)

With inflation running at 3%, none of us can afford for our real pay to be pushed down any more. The anger of members in our group is directed both at our senior management, who have decided not to pay our contractual pay rise in July, but also at the Treasury for delaying the pay talks and limiting the funding for departments to just 1%.

Now is the year to make real progress on pay - the government has been forced to abandon the 1% pay cap policy. We need to build the largest mandate possible to fight for the extra funding from Treasury for a 5% pay increase for all our members.

Katrine Williams, PCS DWP group vice-president (personal capacity)

In HM Land Registry group, pay is a massive issue, particularly after the 2017 offer that was due in June 2017 but wasn't paid until March 2018. The majority of our members received less than 1%, as the pay cap meant that anomalies in our pay system had to be paid for out of the 1% pot. Importantly, our management publicly stated they wanted to pay our members more and could afford to do so - but weren't allowed under government rules.

It is therefore an absolute priority for our members to deliver a massive turn out and yes vote for action in the upcoming ballot. Only through the leverage that the threat and potential delivery of action will bring can we break the cap. Not only that, but most importantly, release sufficient funding to deliver a meaningful pay rise for our members that not only puts a stop to year-on-year cuts to our living standards, but also will start to address what we have lost since 2010.

Dave Lunn, PCS Land Registry group vice-president (personal capacity)

This government has never been weaker. This is not the time to wait. Not only do we need to strike on pay - we can win.

Nick Doyle, PCS, HMRC (personal capacity)

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In The Socialist 13 June 2018:

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