Civil service workers in the PCS union are mobilising to get the biggest yes vote possible in their current strike ballot against job cuts, privatisation and unfair pay.
Some 280,000 workers could strike on Wednesday 31 January as part of their battle against 104,000 job cuts and to defend public services.
A number of departments in the civil service could also see ballots over taking action after they have rejected their pay offers, escalating the dispute.
This is a major dispute and every trade unionist and activist should get behind the PCS.
PCS activists spoke to Socialist Worker about the mood amongst workers and building for a big yes vote.
Anna Owens is the branch organiser of Euston Tower network branch in central London in the revenue and customs department.
“Since our one day strike in November 2004 the mood has certainly developed politically,” she told Socialist Worker.
“That strike was against future attacks, and those attacks are happening now. In my own building people have been made ‘pre-surplus’ – which means their jobs have gone but they are still being paid.
“Some 20 offices are set for closure in central London, which will leave us with five offices in the area. The government announced in November that 150 offices would close nationally and 25,000 jobs would go across the department.
“People are angry, scared and insecure. At a PCS meeting for local activists in London last week delegates were talking about what they were doing to make sure we had a massive yes vote.
“There was a very positive mood among people. The work has started among the members. There are two rallies for central London PCS members this week.
“We’re planning to leaflet every civil service worker this week and we’re also going to go out and make links with other local workers.
“We’re going to go along Euston Road to the fire station, the Metronet bus depot, UCLH hospital and UCL university to make links and invite other trade unionists to our picket line.
“The debate is about what to do after the one-day strike. We can’t let the momentum go – we need to start calling for a national two-day strike, with a national demonstration on the second day, as a way of escalating the action.”
Oliur Rahman is chair of the PCS Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) east London branch – and a Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets. “The attitude among PCS members in east London is very positive,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We’re defending public services. In job centres and benefit offices, because of the government’s centralisation programme, we often can’t serve people on a face to face basis.
“Instead we have to direct them to a phone to ring a call centre. This hits disabled people and pensioners. People are phoning for hours to get help.
“Members have to face verbal abuse and assaults on a daily basis as people get frustrated. Members are delivering the best service possible under the circumstances. If we don’t get what we want we will need to take further action.”
Dave Owens is a member of the PCS DWP group executive committee who works in Liverpool. Dave said, “People have already got their ballot papers and a number have come up to me and said they’ve voted yes.
“We’ve put two leaflets around my office calling on people to vote yes. A meeting in Liverpool just before Christmas attracted around 100 people from across different departments.
“There had been some concern in the union that the mood in the DWP might be changed after last year’s dispute over job cuts was allowed to fizzle out. But that is not the case. The support seems as good as it has been before.
“We’ve targeted a lot of our material towards staff at call centres, as the government has announced that there is going to be cuts in costs, which can only be achieved through offshoring and outsourcing.
“There aren’t many job cuts in these areas, but they are prime targets for privatisation. People are also demanding more action after 31 January.”
Rachel Edwards is the assistant branch secretary of the department for communities and local government PCS branch in central London. “We’ve got members’ meetings set for this week and we’ll be talking to every member about the need to vote yes,” she said.
“The mood is fairly good in my office. At a members meeting in December people were incredibly angry over the way they had been treated over pay. Hopefully that will translate into a huge yes vote.”
Sir Augustine is concerned about his reputation
Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, has sent a letter to PCS members urging them to vote no in the ballot.
Sir Augustine Thomas O’Donnell – to give him his full name – says “industrial action will damage both the services we provide to the public and our reputation as civil servants”.
But this Augustine is no saint. O’Donnell is the highest ranking civil servant in Britain.
His life is far removed from the hundreds of thousands of low paid civil service workers struggling to provide services.
He is a paid up member of the British ruling class. He was press secretary to prime minister John Major during the years that the Tories destroyed Britain’s mining communities.
O’Donnell was Britain’s executive director to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1997.
He returned to work at the treasury in 1998, when he was appointed director of macroeconomic policy and prospects and head of the Government Economics Service.
He became cabinet secretary in 2005 and was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in June that year.
Civil service workers should reject his advice.