Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/370/6067
Civil Servants Strike
WE RECEIVED so many reports from PCS picket lines that we were unable to carry them all in the socialist. Below is a round-up of the inspiring story of the 5 November strike to defend jobs and services.
AROUND 300 attended the Birmingham strike rally at which Tony Conway from PCS reported that around 10,000 had struck in the West Midlands. Many pickets were under 25 years old.
Reports Joe Foster
The Learning and Skills council’s court action failed to stop the strike. But they have to pay all the court costs - so much for saving public funds.
The meeting ended as strikers resolved to ring the Sun ‘skivers’ hotline’ to explain why we were not at work today!
SOCIALIST PARTY members were very well received on the picket lines. Our leaflets went down well.
Reports Paul Hunt
The pickets had a march around the city centre, followed by a rally where Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist spoke - I think in the room where he was expelled from the Labour Party for standing up for socialist ideas!
A MANSFEILD Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) picket asked if there would be a socialist candidate at the election in (neighbouring) Ashfield.
Reports Jon Dale
"I'd rather poke my eyes out with sticks than vote for Hoon", she said. (Geoff Hoon is Secretary of State for Defence.)
PCS MEMBERS in Dundee rallied to the call with over 90% of civil servants in the city on strike. A city centre rally was addressed by NEC and CWI Scotland member Danny Williamson, local MPs, an Scottish TUC speaker and UNISON shop stewards.
Members were determined that their campaign to protect jobs, services and pensions will succeed and welcomed the message from the national union.
Biggest cheer of the day came when the UNISON stewards called for a one-day strike of all public service workers in the event that the expected attacks on public sector pensions materialises in the Queen's speech.
The rally was broadcast live on local television and the general public gave a warm response to the strikers who leafleted the shopping centre.
TIM PERRIS, Gloucester DWP health and safety rep, spoke to John Ewers:
"The support for the strike is very good here and up the road at the Job Centre. Both offices will be badly affected by the cuts. I expect they'll be opening on reduced hours. The turnout is better than for the last strike.
"People are worried that if the job cuts go through they won't be able to give a good standard of service to the public. Management think they can get the job done with fewer workers and better use of IT. But if their use of computer systems up to now is any yardstick, they won't be able to achieve their aims. They just haven't put enough resources into new technology. That's why their plans won't work.
"Joint action between all public sector unions is a very good idea, if we could get the support. It would have more affect on the government than each union campaigning separately. They can't run public services without the staff to administer them."
LUKE AYLWARD spoke to pickets at the social security office in Lincoln.
"It was shocking the way they announced the cuts, at the Labour Party conference this summer."
"The management have no idea how they're going to cut the jobs. At first it was 50,000, but then they double it at the conference, in front of thousands of people who oppose the cuts.
"Then there are the Conservatives, who say they can cut even more, and the Lib Dems are going to cut some as well, so none of the major parties are going to stick up for us.
"The PCS have been quite vocal about the cuts, which is great for us highlighting the importance of the work we do in the public service sector."
DARREN DAVISON works at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).
"It was a marvellous day though I was disappointed how little press coverage it got. Dave Prentis from UNISON was saying that they wouldn't stand to one side in this dispute so we should definitely go for joint action with unions like UNISON and the fire brigades union."
Deptford, south London
THERE WERE about ten pickets outside Deptford Job Centre, which couldn't open due to chronic shortage of staff.
This delighted recently elected PCS rep Pauline as the office had been kept open on past strike days.
"I went on a union training course where we went through what the dispute was about. I've talked to all the people who work here. There are a lot of issues that people are worried about, the cutbacks, pay where we have unfair assessments. I'm all in favour of fighting alongside other unions."
Local Socialist Party councillor Chris Flood joined the pickets, offering his support for their fight.
EXTRACT FROM a Hackney PCS branch newsletter:
"We should all be proud of the part we played on the 5 November and for our contribution to the historic first general strike of civil servants in over a decade. Government figures state 200, 000 took strike action, 176 offices were closed. The Royal Parks were on strike for the first time in their history. 90% of Inland Revenue staff in Northern Ireland were on strike. Post office workers and TGWU members refused to cross picket lines.
On the picket line at Hackney Social Security Office we received visits and messages of support from Hackney UNISON, who have donated £50 to the Strike Fund, and NUT members from a local school who had collected £15."
RICK, THE union rep at Hackney Central JobCentre spoke to Tanja Niemeier:
"If the job slaughter goes ahead as planned than this will mean less service. Especially in the large offices, this will mean it will be no longer possible to provide a 1:1 service. Inevitably, this will lead to more stress and sickness rates will increase. There is also a possibility that there won't be any face to face contact with the clients but that they will have to go through call centres. They actually want to see a friendly face that can help them with their problems.
"What is necessary for our struggle to be successful is that everyone needs to go out. At present, the union is not strong enough. We need to convince and recruit more members to the union to take action. We need a long-term strike, maybe even an indefinite strike until they withdraw the cuts.
"It is important that the different unions come together and support the picket lines. If everyone stuck together, they would have no choice but to listen"
"It is good that you came to support us today. I didn't expect this. I hope we can return this one day because it is important that we stick together."
"A 24-hour strike of all public sector workers or even more is the only way forward to win."
PICKETS FROM the picket line at the Department of Health, Elephant & Castle, spoke to Chris Moore.
"We hope this industrial action today demonstrates to management and ministers that staff are no longer willing to be subjected to a constant attack on jobs and conditions."
Tommy Denning PCS Department of Health London Branch.
"In the Central Health Monitoring Unit numbers of staff have dwindled. Many of the duties have been taken on by temporary and agency staff and the amount of work for those left behind has increased considerably, but salaries have remained the same for five years."
"The Statistics Division has been split between processing work and analytical work. It all used to be one team. In the processing side people have been told they'll be going to Leeds as part of the Information Centre. Those in data analysis have been retained in London.
"Throughout this process members could not apply for jobs in other government departments because it was deemed they had a job already. Staff were not included in the Department of Health's Change Programme. This is a system of reviewing jobs, slotting people into some jobs and those not slotted in were put on the 'Careers Support Network'.
"This means you had to compete against your work colleagues for a limited amount of jobs in each business area. Those that were unsuccessful are still in post for the moment, but are waiting to be matched to other jobs across the civil service. But they still have to go through the interview process.
"But many people have now been told there are not enough appropriate jobs for people to do. Those that have applied for jobs have not received so-called support. Management have constantly talked up this scheme but it's commonly known amongst staff that this is not the reality of the situation. In fact there are a couple of hundred people waiting to be laid off in January."
Mark O'Connor, PCS Central Health Monitoring Unit.
PICKETS FROM Walthamstow DWP offices spoke to Martin Reynolds and Hannah Sell:
"We already get phone calls from people who are totally confused. They've been passed from helpline to helpline and they don't know what to do so, they come in here.
"How are they going to manage when this office shuts? What about disabled people? What about people who need home visits? I used to visit a woman regularly who was 100 to sort out her benefits. What will happen to people like her if they cut my job?
"Then they have the audacity to publish those statistics showing how much the sodding MPs are getting. How dare these MPs claim additional housing allowances, even though they're London MPs, when we don't get London allowances? So it never occurred to me not to go on strike today."
"I wanted to go out on strike so I decided to rejoin the union. We have to fight for the services we provide for the public.
"We need good local services and they have to retain the staff to provide it. The people actually doing the job know the consequences of these cuts. Management seem to have this airy fairy picture of what its going to be like.
"I agree a public sector strike is needed."
OVER 200 strikers demonstrated outside Baskverille House Manchester, a social security office marked for closure. PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh and DWP group president Stella Dennis - both also Socialist Party members - addressed the rally. Stella attacked the cuts programme, and pointed to the need to continue the campaign after such a massive show of strength.
Speaking from the union nationally, Chris congratulated all the strikers on taking action while nailing the vicious lies spread by "The Sun" rag.
At the city-wide strike rally, 250 gathered to hear Chris speak again as well as speakers from Cuba, the GMB and others offering their solidarity.
Socialist Party members visited many picket lines. One worker commented that as strike action is the only thing the government takes notice of he hoped there would be more strikes before Christmas.
Another striker commented that until now he hadn't been active but the threat to 104,000 jobs had convinced him!
Pickets at the Crown Court said that the attacks on sick pay had convinced their members to strike.
ABOUT 40 PCS members and supporters of the one-day strike attended a pre-strike meeting in Portsmouth on 2 November. This meeting was by far the most militant trade union meeting I had ever attended.
Martyn Lawrenson, Portsmouth Socialist Party
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka posed the case for the dispute in simple terms. The redundancies would only save the government £1 billion, but if the government stopped employing private consultants, who come in and tell staff what they already know, the government would save 3.5 billion. I was also surprised to hear that a quarter of civil servants earn less than £13,000.
On the 5 November 100 people turned up to the strike rally. Five of us distributed Socialist Party leaflets.
NEIL ADAMS reports: There were eight people on the picket line at the DWP office. This is up from three during the previous strikes. More than 20 people have joined the union in the last month in the region
The PCS branch organiser has asked if a member of the Socialist Party can speak at the next PCS branch meeting, which shows how our support and ideas are appreciated.
"I hope it is a really successful day, it's a fight we've got to win. If anyone has any doubts about what will happen, it's already started with the closure of the Child Support Agency office in Basingstoke with 85 job losses."
Jane McBeth PCS branch secretary, West Hants DWP
"Blair should be exterminated. I would support PCS members standing in elections to challenge Labour."
Picket, Southampton Job Centre
"They want to cut 4,500 jobs in the South East. We support the most vulnerable and give face-to-face support, that will go. We have people coming in for emergency hardship payments, there won't be the people around to do it."
PCS branch secretary, Hants and Waterside Tax
"I'm here in response to cutting 100 000 jobs. If thousands of jobs go, people will not get their benefits."
Pete Russsell, Valuation Office Agency, Southampton
"We're very worried about our terms and conditions. We've been here for years and put up with low pay, now they're being shafted. People are worried about job security."
"We are the only office certificating seafarers. We have about 35 in our department and they are looking to cut five jobs when our workload is already stretched. Now they want to increase productivity by 5% every year."
Sue Phelp and other pickets at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Southampton
It may not have been the largest picket line out in protest against the vicious threats by chancellor Gordon Brown to cut 104,000 public sector jobs on Friday but, like the hundreds of others around the country, it served its purpose well.
There was in fact just the one striker, supported by a number of Socialist Party sympathisers, who gave up her day's pay to support over 200,000 other strikers from around the country.
The solo demonstrator spoke of an "apathetic mood" in her workplace and a disappointment in her union rep, who refused to strike or encourage others to do so.
Fortunately the public were more forgiving, many stopping to talk and show their support. Even the local postman and TNT delivery man were behind the protest, both neglecting to enter the building as, for the first time, the PCS dispute came to the attention of the nation.
In The Socialist 13 November 2004:
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