Socialist Worker

More national action from civil service workers can beat Brown back

by Andy Reid, PCS national executive (pc)
Issue No. 2037

Court clerks in Brighton joined the national strike last week (Pic: Manus McGrogan)

Court clerks in Brighton joined the national strike last week (Pic: Manus McGrogan)

The strike by quarter of a million civil service workers in the PCS union against job losses on Wednesday of last week had a huge impact.

We were striking against privatisation, unfair pay and chancellor Gordon Brown’s plans to slash 104,000 civil service jobs.

Management threats and ploys backfired as civil service workers walked out in an unprecedented number.

This was the most united strike the PCS has ever had, with groups of workers who were not involved in our previous strike in November 2004, like those who work in magistrates courts, taking a leading role.

The PCS is growing because it is a fighting, campaigning union and activists across the country have reported people flocking to join us the run-up to the strike so that they could be part of the action.

The fact that we were taking national strike action, involving many different parts of the service, had an effect on turnout and morale. Management were left humiliated by the scale of the action.

The list of the places the strike hit shows the crucial public services PCS members deliver.

Across the country job centres and courts were closed or severely affected, as were revenue and customs offices and every government department.

The Welsh Assembly was suspended, 2,000 driving tests cancelled, the reading rooms at the British Library were closed as were the majority of exhibits at the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern galleries.

There were picket lines everywhere – often bigger than on previous strikes – and rallies in towns and cities across Britain.

The mood for a fight was also shown by the PCS members at the Information Commissions office in Manchester who, though not part of the national action, held their own strike over pay on the same day.

In many areas it was young members, women workers and black and Asian activists who took the lead in organising the pickets.

PCS members must continue to highlight the disastrous impact of the government’s cuts on the public who depend on the services we deliver. Just as in the NHS and other services, the profits of privateers and sweeping reductions of staff numbers will hit the most vulnerable.

At the moment there is panic at the prospect of avian flu spreading out into the bird population of Britain after an outbreak among turkeys in Suffolk. One of the crucial lines of defence against this risk are the workforce of wildlife officers at the department of the environment.

Compulsory redundancies of these officers, issued just before Christmas, helped trigger our dispute.

National fight

PCS is one of the first unions to mount a national fightback against New Labour’s onslaught on the public sector. The attacks we face are common to all other public sector workers.

Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, is pushing for public sector unity over the attacks. It is up to rank and file trade unionists to build that unity at a grassroots level.

Our fight is also an international one. French civil service workers are set to strike on Thursday of this week over job cuts and pay. The PCS will be supporting their fight.

After the huge success of last week, the union now has to keep up the pressure on the government, and win.

Large numbers of PCS members will shortly be moving into action over departmental issues, like the attempt to cut one in four jobs in revenue and customs.

Thousands of members are also set to ballot over pay because they still haven’t received an acceptable pay offer for 2006.

Union members responded positively to a clear national lead, and it is important that we build on this. The various disputes are important and will feed into the national campaign. Now the union should go on the offensive against the government.

Rather than waiting for the next announcement of cuts, we should be making plans now for a further two-day national strike with a national demonstration, based on the theme of defending public services, on the second day.

This would tap into the widespread anger among the public and other trade unionists with Tony Blair’s government and its neoliberal policies.

PCS members showed their enthusiasm for this strategy on the picket lines last Wednesday. Wherever the argument about the need for more action was raised it won a hearing.

In the next few weeks the union will be consulting its members about what action is needed next.

Activists must take every opportunity, including their local branch, group and regional meetings, to press for more national strike action.

For activists’ reports and photos of PCS picket lines and rallies across Britain go to PCS strike: your reports and Pictures from PCS picket lines

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Article information

Sat 10 Feb 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2037
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