Some 6,000 Job Centre Plus call centre workers struck this Monday in a battle over conditions.
Pickets were defiant across the country, despite dirty tactics by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) management.
At every workplace in the run up to the strike management pulled workers into meetings to try to convince them not to join the action. But the strike was solid.
On the picket lines workers were enraged at the conditions they’ve had to endure. Pickets outside the Lonend office in Paisley described their working environment as “21st Century Dickensian Mills”.
“Every day we’re tied to computer screens and constantly monitored,” Colin Mack, a steward in the PCS union, told Socialist Worker.
“If we don’t meet targets we’re summoned to explain. Our work is constant—we never stop dealing with calls. There’s only so much we can take.”
This anger was reflected everywhere. In the Caerphilly office in Wales strikers were outraged when management told workers the strike would cut into this month’s bonus.
In Chorlton, Manchester—one of the best organised offices—the rep described support for the strike as “the best we’ve had.” The workers had to fight for a long time for the walkout and are determined to keep up the pressure.
Strikers told Socialist Worker that they felt emboldened. One said, “The fact that the action is on a Monday shows the union is now serious—that’s the busiest day in the office.”
That was why management’s attempts at the office to hold “team meetings” to undermine the strike were met only with one response—“Are we out for one day or two?”
In Sheffield, strikers at the Hartshead Square office said jobs at JSA Online were being privatised—outsourced to Capita, where pay and conditions are even worse.
Workers were also livid that a new system was being brought in for contact centre staff to monitor “every second of the working day”—even when they go to the toilet. “Never mind Capita, more like they want us to have catheters!” one picket said.
John Ainslie, the rep at the Coventry office said workers have “had enough”. “We need more strikes and we need to unite all call centre workers—whether privatised or in the public sector—to fight together for decent conditions.”
At Garston office in Liverpool, striker Dave Owens told Socialist Worker what he felt the next steps should be. “There’s been excellent support here,” he said. “We expected the strike to be strong, and then management’s efforts to weaken us blew up in their face.
“The concessions that bosses quoted to us have only been gained through strikes, so striking again can win much more. Fighting the cuts in the here and now is important, and it feeds into the momentum of the national fightback we’re part of.”
The DWP office is Bridgend, South Wales, was—like others across the country—on strike against privatisation of call centre jobs on Monday.
The office is already about 90 percent unionised by the PCS. But even so, six more workers joined recently in order to take part in the strike.
Helen, the union rep, said, “There’s a very good mood. This office is not greatly affected by the current proposals—but we understand that if the government wins on this round, they’ll come back for more.”
The union branch was also looking ahead to join in the TUC demonstration on 20 October. “We had six people go down to the big TUC demo last year,” said Helen. “This time we’ve already got double that number booked.”
Thanks to Drew McEwan, Des Mannay, Mark Krantz, Julia Armstrong and Mark Collins for contributing to this report