Socialist Worker

Mark Serwotka interview: out to defend vital jobs and services

As civil service workers prepare for a major dispute over job cuts in January their PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka spoke to Socialist Worker

Issue No. 2030

Mark Serwotka

Mark Serwotka

Why is the PCS union planning to ballot over 280,000 members for strikes in the new year?

A number of issues have brought us to this point. In 2004, huge cuts to the civil service and related public bodies were announced, including over 100,000 job losses.

In November of that year, 200,000 PCS members took strike action in defence of their jobs and services.

That magnificent demonstration of solidarity led to an agreement which, until now, has enabled us to avoid compulsory redundancies.

But now a number of our members have been issued with compulsory redundancy notices.

This has never happened to serving civil servants before. We made it clear to senior managers and ministers some time ago that compulsory redundancies were unnecessary and unacceptable.

Our view is that if we don’t respond strongly then the government will attempt to impose more in the months ahead. We will try and reach a negotiated settlement. But the cabinet office seems unwilling to sit down and seriously discuss our demands

We are united in our determination to defend our livelihoods and protect public services.

The cuts have meant that the quality of work and service delivery is falling. Fewer staff means rising workloads, pressure and stress for those who remain. It means thousands of unanswered phone calls and unopened items of post.

In order to plug the gaps created by the job cuts, the government is determined to push ahead with more privatisation, putting services and jobs at risk while large companies make huge profits.

On pensions, PCS members voted in spring 2005, alongside other trade unionists, for industrial action and secured a major success in preventing the government imposing a rise in our members’ pension age.

We want to make it clear to the government that we expect it to keep to the promises on pensions it has made, and make sure new entrants to the civil service scheme will get a decent pension.

Pay is a vital issue too. Low pay is a real problem in the civil service and related public bodies. Some of our members not only work to deliver working tax credits, they get paid so little that they receive them as well.

The majority of PCS members get paid less than £20,000 per year. A quarter earn under £15,340. Now many organisations in which our members work are making below-inflation pay offers.

Thousands of our members face a pay cut in real terms next year. We want a fair national pay system that will eradicate low pay and ensure staff are equally paid for work of equal value.

What is the management culture like inside the civil service?

Deskilling has become a big issue for some of our members. For example, in Revenue and Customs, management want to increase output and cut jobs by deskilling work.

They call this “Lean” – but it is nothing more than old-fashioned assembly line work. Thousands of skilled and experienced staff are being told to do deskilled work in a bullying, target-driven culture.

In general, bullying and an aggressive management style have become worse in recent years.

The cuts mean there are fewer staff left to do the work. Our members work hard to keep service quality high because they know millions of ordinary people depend on them.

But increasingly management are attempting to get staff to do more and more work by increasing pressure, and using sick absence and performance targets in an aggressive way.

What has been the approach of chancellor Gordon Brown to dealing with the concerns of workers?

His approach has been no different to the rest of the present government. He is the minister who in 2004 announced, without prior warning or consultation, the 100,000 job cuts as part of his so-called “efficiency programme”.

These cuts have nothing to do with “efficiency”. They are a politically driven attempt to outflank the Tories over cutting back civil service employment, regardless of the effect on public services.

We have left Gordon Brown and every other minister in no doubt about the deep unpopularity of the government’s policies among our members and the general public.

Why is the government cutting jobs? How does this fit into the broader context of neoliberalism?

Cutting back jobs in the civil service and related organisations is part and parcel of privatising the public sector.

Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher placed much importance on “rolling back the state”. Now many PCS members and the general public are angry that a Labour government is imposing the same policies.

Millions of working people know that cuts and privatisation have nothing to do with improving services.

They are about generating profits for private business and extending the market into more areas of our lives. That is why in every opinion poll the large majority of people always say they want public services delivered by public servants.

Does the fight against cuts in the civil service have wider consequences for the rest of the trade union movement?

Stopping the cuts will not only benefit PCS members and the millions who depend on the work they do. It will be a huge encouragement to all those who want to defend public services.

Building unity with other unions will be central to our strategy. We will be requesting support from the TUC and all other public sector unions.

Civil servants, health workers, firefighters, teachers and local government workers have a common interest in standing together to defeat the attacks on the public sector.

Activists in other unions will have a key role to play in building solidarity with our members at the local level and helping to make sure we win.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 9 Dec 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2030
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.