Prison officers across Britain are taking unofficial action over pensions today, Thursday, walking out on the same day as the public sector strikes.
Around 80 percent of prison officers are out, according to their POA union, and most prisons are affected. The government is threatening an injunction to stop the action.
This comes as 400,000 public sector workers strike and former Tory spin doctor Andy Coulson prepares to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry. It has added to the escalating sense of crisis for the government.
The POA says it called prison officers out for “protest meetings” starting at 7am this morning and continuing until its national executive committee directs otherwise.
POA general secretary Steve Gillan said, “The POA has submitted a case to government to support our view that it is unrealistic for prison officers to be automatically linked to the state pension age, which will ultimately rise to 68 years of age.
“Unfortunately, it has fallen on deaf ears and prison officers have no other option but to protest to gain public attention.”
One protesting prison officer outside Brixton prison in South London told Socialist Worker, “We haven’t had a pay rise for ten years. And now working conditions for new workers are being driven down.”
Prison officers were banned from striking by a court order in 1993. The Tories then made this law in 1994. So the POA is at the sharp end of the anti-union laws, always facing court threats if it takes any kind of action. They are right to fight these disgraceful laws.
Many who are on strike today will welcome the prison officers’ walkout. But there are contradictions in the role that prison officers play in society.
Prison officers are relatively low paid, and generally see themselves as workers. But those who really suffer in the prison system are not the prison officers but the prisoners—who are predominantly poor and disproportionately black.
POA chair PJ McParlin calls prison officers “an essential uniformed service in a volatile operational workplace”. The word “volatile” here is a euphemism.
The harsh reality of life in prisons is that while the prison officers have walked out, prisoners will be on “lockdown”. The POA should be looking for better conditions in prisons as part of its demands.
Prison officers are paid to uphold “law and order” and keep control of prisoners. This frequently pushes them to accept the most right wing aspects of the system.
Traditionally prison officers—like the police—have been looked after by governments keen to keep them onside. But as when prison officers struck over pay in 2007, this time ministers have chosen confrontation. It is another sign of the crisis facing the Tories.