Over 280,000 members of the PCS civil service workers' union are set to strike on Wednesday of next week after they voted to take action against job cuts, privatisation and unfair pay.
Some 61,488 PCS members voted to strike, while 38,823 voted against. This was on a 38 percent turnout. Members also voted overwhelmingly to take action short of a strike.
I am one of thousands of PCS activists that have been building towards a yes vote.
Our vote is a clear message to this floundering New Labour government that compulsory redundancies and neoliberal attacks on our public services will not be tolerated.
Since New Labour announced that it intended to slash over 104,000 civil service jobs it has continually failed to realise that civil service workers deliver vital services to the public, including to some of the most disadvantaged people in society.
The government argues that job cuts are necessary to save money, and that civil servants are overpaid. It attacks our contracted terms and conditions.
Sadly, the top civil servants tend to agree with New Labour. Sir Augustine O'Donnell, the head of the civil service, wrote to all civil servants in December urging us to reject industrial action that will damage the services we provide to the public and our reputation as civil servants.
He was backed up by every department's permanent secretary. This letter has provoked outrage among PCS members. We know that our unions cannot be blamed for damaging public services.
What is damaging our ability to deliver public services is the tens of thousands of job cuts we are facing. The government wants to close 200 HM Revenue and Customs sites across the country.
This is despite over one million items of post, from tax returns to P45s already going unopened.
In the Department for Work and Pensions, the closure of job centres around the country has led to thousands of job cuts.
These are services which some of the most disadvantaged people in society rely upon. They have been replaced with call centres, where staff cuts have led to hundreds of thousands of calls going unanswered.
In the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my own department, we have already lost 19 wildlife officers.
They are vital to defences against foot and mouth disease and avian influenza.
It must reassure the public to know that if there is a bird flu outbreak, there are now less people with the necessary skills to help fight it because the government has chosen to place a price on public health risk.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. If we do not stand together against these attacks, it will lead to a massive decline in the services we all need.
Since 1997, we have seen a massive increase in the use of private sector consultants within the public sector.
Ordinary civil service workers are finding themselves working with consultants who, doing the same job, can be earning up to ten times more than themselves.
This government's supposed agenda is saving money. But it is spending over £2.5 billion on private sector consultants.
In HM Revenue and Customs, this blinkered view has led to £105 million being saved on job cuts, only to be off set by spending £106 million on private consultants.
In the Ministry of Defence, the failure of the IT system has not stopped the second phase of the privately run project and all at a cost of £4 billion.
It is only when you hear of private sector incompetence, that the value of real public servants becomes apparent.
Ordinary civil service workers do not work in public services for the money. The message is simple – the less civil servants there are, the more public services will be lost and the more the taxpayer will have to pay.
The PCS will begin its industrial action with a one day strike, with demonstrations and rallies across the country next Wednesday 31 January. We need to make these as big and as effective as possible.
Trade unionists and activists should make every effort to get down to our picket lines to show support for our struggle.
However, given the scale of the attacks on us, it is clear that a one day strike will not be enough.
My message to our union leaders is that they need to arrange follow-up action for as soon as possible in February. It is also up to us as rank and file activists to ensure this happens.
We need to focus on our strength of solidarity and togetherness. We can sustain pressure on what is clearly a weakening government. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our members and we owe it to our public services.
A message from Mark Serwotka
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, spoke at the press conference to announce the ballot result on Tuesday of this week.
'This vote of PCS members speaks volumes,' he said. 'Our members only go on strike if they have no other option.
'It's about time the cabinet office stopped saying how well off civil service workers are and started to do something.
'There will hardly be a street in central London without a PCS picket line on Wednesday of next week during the strike. That demonstrates how important PCS members are.'
More national action is needed
There is a continuing debate within the PCS union about what the next stage of the action should be.
The national executive of the union last week agreed that it needed to keep up the momentum of the campaign on an industrial, political and media level.
A number of different government departments are currently in dispute or are facing disputes over their pay offers. They could be balloted to take action over their pay.
The different departments could take action together, opening a new front in the battle.
The cuts are being pushed through by chancellor Gordon Brown. It will take the united power of the union to win.
The way to step up the pressure on the government and defeat it is by escalating the action. This means more national strike action.
A number of activists are arguing for a two day national strike in February as the next step, with a national demonstration against cuts on the second day of the strike.
Sue Bond, the deputy president of the PCS, told Socialist Worker, in a personal capacity, 'The union has agreed that there will be consultation meetings for the PCS regions and groups in early February.
'This means that activists have to argue for further national action in their branches now so that that view is heard at the meetings in February.'
Public Services Not Private Profit rally
with PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka
6pm, Thursday 25 January, Cross Street Chapel, Manchester.