The national dispute by tens of thousands of benefits office and job centre workers in the PCS civil servants' union has taken another major blow. The group executive committee, which runs the dispute and is dominated by the Left Unity group, decided on Monday of this week to recommend no action until a one-day strike for Tuesday 2 April. This is the day that New Labour's flagship Jobcentre Plus welfare scheme is officially launched.
'This decision is absolute lunacy,' says Phil Pardoe, branch secretary of PCS Inner London branch. 'A decision to call for no action until 2 April is a clear de-escalation of the dispute. At a meeting of some 100 branch delegates from around the country in Leeds last Saturday nobody supported that. What was the point of having the consultation? How is a one-day strike in six weeks time supposed to put pressure on management and the government, and win over members to the action? People were arguing for either regional strikes in different areas at different times or for a week of action at the beginning of April.'
New Labour wants to seriously weaken the PCS union, after members showed opposition to the government's policies by electing socialist Mark Serwotka as general secretary in 2000. Tens of thousands of workers have already struck for two days in December and January against New Labour's plans to remove safety screens from the new merged Jobcentre Plus offices.
The strikes also showed some weaknesses of the union. The vast majority of workers in job centres crossed picket lines during both strikes. They do not feel a part of the dispute because they do not have to work behind screens due to the nature of their job. The union needs to put a lot of work into convincing these people the dispute is right and that it can win.
Left Unity union leaders want to resist the right wing inside the union leadership and New Labour who want to undermine Mark Serwotka. Unfortunately their decisions are assisting these forces. The national executive was due to meet on Wednesday of this week to discuss the group executive committee's recommendation.
Activists are also worried that it will call off the selective all-out action by around 750 people in the government's trial Pathfinder offices. This would mean sending people back to work in an environment that is unscreened and unsafe.