CIVIL SERVANTS who work in Britain's job centres and benefits offices are preparing for their next round of strikes on Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 January. The action, by members of the PCS union, is a great opportunity to turn up the heat on New Labour and civil service management. New Labour increased its intimidation of strikers last weekend with the threat that people will not receive promised promotions if they continue to strike. 'The decision makes clear the contempt in which management holds members' concerns,' said Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary elect.
Activists need to build the strike by organising meetings in offices where the last strike in mid-December was weaker. Many workers in job centres crossed picket lines. They felt that the dispute against the removal of safety screens was not relevant to them because they have never had to work behind screens.
Activists have to spend the run-up to the strike winning these job centre workers over to supporting the action. These people, like Benefits Agency workers, are angry about low pay, privatisation and the attacks on the union. They will also be spitting angry about New Labour's plans to massively increase senior civil servants' pay. The dispute needs to be widened to include these aims.
The union needs to step up the action and begin arguing that the only way to win this strike is by escalating to all out.
'THIS RESULT is going to make management even more confident. It's the fruits of the strategy of our group executive committee. They've been stalling on this issue for months, which has demoralised members and scuppered the dispute.' This was the angry response of a PCS union member in the Inland Revenue after the result of the ballot for continuing action over pay. Union members voted by 19,582 to 5,479 to take action short of a strike, but by 15,915 to 9,121 against taking strike action. Inland Revenue management imposed its pay offer on staff just before Christmas.
Back in October workers had voted overwhelmingly to reject the offer and strike for a better deal. But union leaders sat on the dispute and refused to call strike action. Even though management imposed an offer without consultation, the group executive would still not back strike action.
In the ballot over the Christmas period it advised against voting for strikes. Despite this over 9,000 workers voted to strike, showing the huge anger over this issue. Activists have to build on this.