Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/358/5896
Civil Servants On Strike
- Stop the job cuts, defend the public sector.
- For a one-day strike across the civil service.
- Build support for a one-day public-sector general strike
On 29 and 30 July, thousands of civil servants working in the Department for Work and Pensions were on strike, fighting against low pay.
They were also protesting about the tens of thousands of jobs under threat in the civil service, part of an attack by New Labour on the public sector as a whole.
As these reports show, the strike was well-supported and the idea of joint action by all public sector unions was well-received.
GLORIA TANNER, PCS branch organiser, Pat Maddick, branch chair and Dave Richards, group assistant sec for DWP at the Swansea Pension Centre spoke to the socialist:
"Our campaign so far is really successful. We are making the local MPs squirm! We've got the pensions branch and other members writing letters to MPs, lobbying the politicians and collecting petitions.
"We're on strike to protest against the below inflation 2003 pay offer, the imposition of the divisive Performance Development System.
"And of course the DWP management have yet to even submit the 2004 pay claim to the Treasury! Management are unprepared to negotiate with us.
"Gordon Brown's announcement of 104,000 job losses is scandalous and it makes no sense to claim that it will 'improve' services. Staff are trained to provide an excellent level of service to our customers, pensioners and other benefit claimants. The government are going to decimate that service. How can we possibly function without those staff?
"You know it's the hypocrisy of the government that is difficult to stomach. The idea that you can cut over 100,000 jobs without affecting public services as a whole.
"If over 100,000 are shoved onto the dole - who is going to process all those giros? Look what's happened to the Child Support Agency. They've already cut staff there and we've got a much worse service there as a result.
"The PCS will be balloting for a national day of action across the civil service in September. We'll be looking at further selective action. As ever we'll continue to campaign amongst members including leafleting the workplace. We're prepared to continue with industrial action, including the ban on overtime, working to rule and possibly future strikes. We are determined to win."
Hands Off Charlie!
FLAK-JACKETED police officers drew up alongside 50 PCS and solidarity pickets outside the DWP office in Stratford, East London. According to the officer in charge, they had been alerted by managers that we were about to storm the building. This sums up the vindictive, confrontational and provocative management in one of today's civil service, low-pay office-factories.
The strike over pay - but now linked with Gordon Brown's planned jobs carnage - was solid. The Stratford office was also a focal point because of the victimisation of Charlie McDonald, PCS London executive member and staff rep.
A 100-strong rally with union leader, Mark Serwotka, clearly identified the attacks from the New Labour government. He warned that redundancies could start this year in what he described as a more brutal attack on the civil service than even the 'dark days' of Thatcher in the 1980s. He is taking the issue to the TUC general council, as well as meeting with representatives of the ten biggest unions with a view to organising solidarity. A one-day civil service strike is planned for later in the year.
The rally highlighted management intimidation. It seems that there is a conscious attempt by managers to make working conditions intolerable - driving people out of the workplace ahead of any mass compulsory redundancies. Part of this strategy involves the targeting and victimisation of union activists in an attempt to disrupt union opposition.
There are big differences in working conditions and pay structures within the civil service. The DWP is in the forefront of Brown's assault and so workers there will tend to lead the fight back. But unity is essential if New Labour is to be beaten back on the issues of pay and job losses which affect every civil servant.
Only militant action can achieve this, linked to a campaign to explain the issues and win the support of the millions who use these essential public services. As part of these battles, the PCS must continue to defend union activists.
Around The Picket Lines
Brian Loader reports that on the picket line in Alfreton, Derbyshire there were three PCS members and one manager - to see fair play?. Out of 34 staff, 29 are PCS members and only one was working.
Each PCS picket took the Socialist Party leaflet and the leading picket bought a paper for £1.
Theresa Mackay sold a copy of the socialist to all four pickets on the Ipswich JobCentre plus picket line. "When a new PCS rep came to the trades council meeting, we made a £50 donation to their hardship fund. This cross-union solidarity must be built on" she added.
Patrick Westmore reports: "At the main DWP office in Newport, Isle of Wight, 85% of the workforce was on strike. Geoff Lumley, the PCS chair told us how more members were joining the union every day. Mark Chiverton, UNISON branch secretary was also visiting the picket line to show solidarity and bring a donation to the hardship fund."
Clive Walder visited the Birmingham Northfield DWP office, where four people were on the picket line. Seven scabs and four managers went in out of a workforce of 200. Also at the Regional Medical Office very few people went to work.
Fifteen people were on the picket line at Walthamstow JobCentre in East London. Eight of them bought a copy of the socialist.
Paul Harrigan, on the picket line at Wellington Street, Leicester said: "This is the best supported action so far across all the offices in Leicester. Lots of new members have joined the union, and we are more determined than ever to pursue this action to the end.
"The sun is out, the civil servants are out and soon we will get Sir Richard Mottram (the Permanent Secretary) out!"
Leicester Socialist Party public meeting:
'How can the civil service jobs massacre be defeated?'
Speakers: Marion Lloyd - PCS NEC (personal capacity), a Leicester PCS representative (personal capacity).
5 August, 7:30pm, The Secular Hall, Humberstone Gate, Leicester.
More info: 0116 223 0534.
Reading: "We Won't Accept It"
Alan Smith from the PCS in Reading DWP, spoke in a personal capacity to Neil Adams from Reading Socialist Party:
How have PCS members reacted to the announcement of the proposed job cuts?
"We're all pretty upset about it. No one is actually telling us anything about it and people don't know what to believe. The government talks about making frontline services better but it is in the back offices where a lot of the important work gets done. Without us there would be no effective frontline service.
They haven't considered how it will affect those that lose their jobs. With the highest housing prices in the south how are people going to keep their homes? They say there are 600,000 jobs available in other areas but what type of jobs are they?"
Has there been a visible increase in militancy since the announcement and has your membership increased?
"People are not going to sit back and accept it. Our office alone has had five new members this week. Out of 500 DWP workers in Reading 350 are members of the PCS."
Do you think that a one-day general strike of public sector workers, through the other public sector unions, is needed to have a real impact?
"We are under the impression that this is the plan although we have not heard anything about it. There have been no talks at ground level but hopefully this is being discussed at a higher level."
Swansea Trades Council
SWANSEA TRADES Council held a very successful meeting in support of striking PCS workers in the DWP on 28 July.
The meeting heard long-standing Socialist Party member John McInally (PCS Executive member with responsibility for Wales) call for the other public sector unions to link with the PCS in defending public services.
Pat Maddick, branch chair of the PCS in the Swansea Pensions Centre, explained how a pay award has been imposed which will leave tens of thousands of PCS members earning less than the Low Pay Unit's decency threshold.
Ronnie Job, secretary of the Trades Council and Socialist Party Wales member, appealed to those present to go back to their unions and workplaces and to offer practical solidarity such as visiting picket lines, expressing support in the press and contributing financially to the strike hardship fund.
Several speakers from the floor said this represents the most serious threat to jobs since Thatcher attacked the miners.
Summing up, John McInally was confident in the PCS' ability to win on low pay and the job losses and called for a one-day civil service strike in the autumn.
In The Socialist 7 August 2004:
Socialist Party news and analysis