Tens of thousands of civil servants are set to strike next Monday and Tuesday. The workers are PCS union members in benefits offices and job centres. They are striking against New Labour's plans to remove safety screens in the amalgamated benefit agencies and job centres being set up.
Around 40,000 people struck over the same issue for two days in mid-December. New Labour minister Alastair Darling is out to seriously weaken the union. He has given management the green light to organise strikebreaking and to intimidate staff through threatening to withhold promotions.
This, plus the union's decision to focus on the narrow issue of safety screens, meant that the last strike was not as strongly supported as it could have been. Workers in job centres felt that the dispute was not theirs as they have never had to work behind safety screens. Many crossed picket lines.
Activists should use the last few days of the run-up to next week's strike to ensure it is stronger than the last action. That means getting out and arguing with workers in offices where the last action was weaker. Job centre workers, like benefit office workers, are angry about low pay, privatisation, attacks on the union and the doubling of pay for top civil servants.
If the dispute is widened to include these aims it will bridge the divide between the two different sections. 'If management don't shift we are going to have to escalate the action in February,' Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary elect, told Socialist Worker. 'There's a debate going on amongst members about what that should be. Some want to move to an all-out strike, others want five days a month and others want a rolling programme of regional strikes.'
The best way to unite all sections of the workforce and win the strike is to move to all-out.
THESE STRIKERS in Streatham, south London, were on the picket line on Monday. They are just some of the 750 PCS members around the country who are still on all-out strike against the removal of safety screens in the government's new Pathfinder offices.
Some have been on strike since 4 September, the rest since 22 October. Over 2,500 Pathfinder strikers were on all-out strike until mid-December. Most were sent back to work because the union said it could no longer afford to keep everyone out.
The 750 remaining strikers work in offices in Birmingham, Streatham, Gateshead, Derby, Winchester, Brent in west London and Wallasey in Merseyside.
PCS members at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's office struck over pay on Wednesday of last week. Some 240 staff work in the office, based at Millbank Tower in London and in offices in Cardiff and Edinburgh.
They walked out following an overwhelming vote for monthly one-day strikes and continuous action short of strikes.
THE DISPUTE over pay inequalities involving PCS union members in DEFRA, the former ministry of agriculture, has reached a crucial stage. The fight centres on pay disparities between staff from the two former government departments which were partially merged to create the new department.
The rolling programme of strikes has been suspended after the government suggested that extra money could be allocated to resolve the issue. Many activists worry that this is a mistake as no details of the offer have been released.