Socialist Worker

Hear ye, hear ye - even the town crier is angry!

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2036

Activists in the PCS civil service workers' union organised to make Wednesday's strike against job cuts, privatisation and unfair pay as hard-hitting as possible.

The industrial action targeted over 200 government departments, agencies and non departmental public bodies including jobcentres, benefit offices, passport offices, driving exam centres, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), courts service and national museums and galleries.

PCS activists spoke to Socialist Worker about organising for the strike and making links with other public sector workers who are facing similar attacks.

Anna Owens is the PCS branch organiser of Euston Tower network branch in central London in the revenue and customs department.

Anna said, 'We have made links with workers at the UCLH hospital and students at Soas and UCL universities – they are set to attend our picket line.

'I addressed a meeting of the Camden Unison union branch on Monday. Many people see that our fight is a part of the struggle against New Labour's attacks that everyone is facing. If we win, it can inspire other groups of workers to stand up to the assault.'

Kate Douglas, joint branch secretary of the PCS DWP Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire branch, said, 'The run-up to the strike was incredible across the region.

'There was to be a picket line at Brize Norton Ministry MoD airbase on Wednesday, as well as at MoD Bicester. The MoD Caversfield site is to be closed with the loss of 150 jobs.

'I have never seen such anger among MoD workers, particularly over privatisation. The admin staff at Bullingdon prison had a mass meeting last week and they are walking out.

'In the DWP 20 people have joined the PCS in the last few weeks in Aylesbury. They are set to have a very good picket line.

'There will be a rally in Oxford on Wednesday with speakers from across the different government departments and a speaker from the Unison union. The town crier, who is a PCS member, will be at the rally.'

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka says, 'This strike illustrates the depth of anger amongst the government's own workforce against crude job cuts and below inflation pay offers.

'Patience has worn thin with services suffering as a result of job cuts, billions being spent on private sector consultants and some of the lowest paid facing a pay cut in real terms.'

A chance to fight together

The PCS union is pushing for unity across the unions in defence of public services and jobs. This strategy has been most effective in Manchester, where workers in Amicus, Unison and the PCS all struck on Wednesday of this week.

Sue Bond, the PCS deputy president, told Socialist Worker, 'We had a brilliant Public Services Not Private Profit meeting in Manchester on Thursday of last week.

'Over 100 people attended to hear Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, alongside Ruth Winters from the FBU firefighters' union and Manuel Cortes, the assistant general secretary of the TSSA rail workers' union.

'Other speakers included workers from Fujitsu and the NHS who are both on strike this week and linking up with the PCS strike at a joint rally in Manchester.

'Everybody understood that we face common attacks and that we need to work together from the bottom up to resist them.

'There is a meeting for senior activists in the different PCS groups on 13 February. The national union officials expect them to feed back the experience of the strike and say what they want to do as part of the next action.

'People need to raise the arguments about the need for more national strike action in their own groups and regions.'

This is the way to build a union

Civil service workers are rushing to join the union in a number of areas so they can take part in the strike, despite management's attempts to pressure workers.

'Management tried a dirty tricks campaign in Cardiff,' Marianne Owens, the assistant branch secretary of the PCS Customs branch, Wales, said in a personal capacity.

'They called staff into meetings to say how disappointed they were that we were striking. This has backfired. Twenty five people joined the union because of it. The mood is good and everybody is angry.'

'The PCS is recruiting members in Nottingham in the run-up to the strike,' said Paul Williams, the PCS department of transport group president.

'People know how crucial this dispute is and want to fight to win. Young members at the Independent Living Fund, where they only won union recognition last year, have come to the fore in organising for a march and rally in Nottingham.'

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

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