Socialist Worker

Vote on for pay battle

<strong>SUE BOND</strong>, the vice-president of the PCS union (personal capacity) explains why 114,000 civil servants are voting for their biggest strikes in 16 years.

Issue No. 1883

OVER 100,000 civil servants have had enough of appalling pay, imposed by the government.

Their strike ballot began this week and could bring a two-day stoppage at the end of this month. Government departments offered their workers terrible pay offers last year, which were overwhelmingly rejected.

This could be the most important pay fight in the civil service since national bargaining was abolished under the Tories over a decade ago. The discredited right wing, which used to run the PCS civil servants' union, spent years avoiding a fightback, while low pay and "modernisation" ripped through the public sector. They paid the price last year when members elected a new left leadership committed to standing up for members.

Now, for the first time, action will be coordinated across five different departments.

Workers in job centres, benefit offices and pensions centres in the Department for Work and Pensions will be joined by Home Office staff, immigration officers, and administration workers in prisons, civil and crown courts and the Royal Courts of Justice.

The tiny group of workers who provide legal support for the Treasury solicitors are balloting alongside workers from the biggest government department. Solidarity is back on the agenda.

The government has been controlling every department pay offer, using "delegated pay" as a divide and rule method of driving down pay levels.

Last month over 90 percent of PCS members voted to campaign for a return to national pay. A breakthrough over the current disputes will give that campaign a massive boost.

The government is taking a hard line. Departmental managers have imposed four of the five pay offers rejected by members. Not even Thatcher dared do that.

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, is drawing up proposals for regional pay rates, and the government is looking to move thousands of civil service jobs out of London.

The deep bitterness among civil servants can be seen in the immediate wildcat walkouts that took place in job centres and benefit offices in Essex and Glasgow in response to the imposition of the DWP pay offer. These were followed by other unofficial strikes in London

Large local pay rallies of civil servants last November saw anger about a Labour government that can spend nearly £8 million on advice on public sector reform from the right wing Adam Smith Institute. This is at a time when nearly 15,000 civil servants earn less than £10,000 a year and 35 percent earn less than £15,000.

This mood can be turned into strong successful action. That means holding cross-departmental activists' meetings to carry the argument, build the confidence of every member and coordinate rank and file organisation.

If we stray into hesitation and sectional differences, allowing the momentum to falter, then it could fail. But if we learn the lessons from both the firefighters' defeat and the success of the postal workers, then we can deliver the united action that can win.

CIVIL SERVANTS at the Health and Safety Executive have overwhelmingly rejected their pay offer. The Prospect and PCS unions are to move towards a strike ballot.

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Sat 10 Jan 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1883
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