Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Craig Worswick, DWP GEC member (personal capacity)

Months after a ballot on safety in Jobcentres was launched by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, members are left wondering whatever happened to the campaign to keep them safe.

Supported by Socialist Party members, the group executive committee of the union in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched a ballot over the attempts by the government to reopen Jobcentres to the public – putting staff and claimants at risk – and to reinstitute the sanctions regime for benefits claimants.

The ballot was launched very late, with the result only likely to arrive after most Jobcentres in England had already reopened, and was then extended by two weeks. It was also only a consultative ballot, so would not have given members the legal right to strike, to stop the government from putting them, their claimants and their families at risk.

In June, having delayed publication of the ballot result for unknown reasons, the union published a bulletin telling branches that the ballot had achieved a 74% ‘yes’ vote, reflecting a high degree of anger among members and a willingness to fight.

No information was provided to branches about the percentage of members who voted, and so union reps and members have been left to guess about that. Since then there has been no communication about the ballot. The leadership of the union delayed even meeting to discuss the result for three weeks from when the result was known.

On 24 June, Socialist Party members elected to the union’s DWP group executive committee (GEC), which leads the union in DWP, attended the first meeting of the newly elected GEC. All of our proposals on how to advance this campaign were rejected.

We argued strongly that no forced return to the workplace was ground that the union could not concede without a serious fight. We also raised issues around how we are being micromanaged in Jobcentres, with ‘ghost diaries’ and other practices designed never to allow a free minute, and seeking to cram as many people into Jobcentres as possible.

Alongside independent socialists from the Broad Left Network, in which the Socialist Party participates, we argued that the GEC needed to immediately pivot to a strategy of mass engagement with branches and members across the UK, to make the case for action and to prepare for an immediate statutory ballot.

This would have allowed branches to band together where there was a mood for action. It would have solidified the confidence of a whole layer of reps and members who are angry but are not sure about going it alone in a fight which is clearly a national battle.

Our views were completely ignored, and silence continues to reign when it comes to the DWP group executive committee telling people what the strategy is. In reality, they have abandoned the campaign.

It was for precisely this reason that, as part of the Broad Left Network, Socialist Party members stood against the increasingly rightward drifting PCS ‘Left Unity’ leadership of the union, who have abandoned members and aren’t even pretending to give any direction to branches and union’s reps when it comes to protecting our workplaces.

We encourage all PCS members and reps who want to rebuild a fighting, democratic trade union to get in touch.