The national ballot of 75,000 job centre and Benefits Agency workers in the PCS union was delayed last week due to technical difficulties. The new ballot will now start on Wednesday of this week, ending on Monday 3 December. The 75,000 workers are being balloted to join a strike by 2,500 civil servants across Britain.
The 2,500 workers are on all-out strike against New Labour's Job Centre Plus plans which will amalgamate the Benefits Agency and job centres. Hundreds of strikers in the government's new Pathfinder offices from Brent in west London and Streatham in south London began the strike at the beginning of September.
They have been joined by hundreds more from every Pathfinder office in Britain. If the ballot of 75,000 is successful, they will join the dispute, striking for up to five days a month. This strike could be one of the biggest challenges to New Labour since it was elected.
New Labour have made a huge attempt to try to break the strike and the union. The government wants to attack the workers as part of its attempt to drive through a harsh Tory-style benefits system.
New Labour has attacked workers and tried to divide workers and claimants. Alastair Darling, minister for work and pensions, has organised a scabbing operation that includes paying people £14 extra a day to cross picket lines, bussing in managers from across the country and paying other expenses. Carl, a Benefits Agency worker from Neasden in north west London, has been on all-out strike since the beginning of September.
He says, 'The government has tried to break our strike, but they haven't succeeded. Support has grown for us. I've been up and down the country doing union meetings for the national ballot and the vote we're going to get will be tremendous.'
Over 250 PCS members in Makerfield in Lancashire are set to join the strike from next Monday. They voted overwhelmingly against management attempts to get them to scab on the Pathfinder strike.
The workers are determined to use the delay in the ballot to build up more momentum for the strikes. 'It gives us extra time to set up meetings in every office and counter management propaganda,' says Chris Ford, branch secretary of PCS central and west London Benefits Agency branch.
'This is a fight we can win,' says Carl. 'We've been out too long to lose. We're not going to back down. It is more important now that we get out and show the importance of the strike.'
PCS MEMBERS in Inland Revenue are taking industrial action-an overtime ban, work to rule and flexi-protest-for a better pay offer.
The PCS group executive committee is organising a ballot between 17 December and 10 January over continuing the action, and asking workers if they want to strike over the issue.
Our trade union leaders are recommending that we vote to continue the industrial action but are against striking.
Yet we voted by a massive majority of 17,688 to 9,007 to take strike action for a better pay offer in a ballot only last month. Why do we have to ballot again? Our leaders should call us out now.
INLAND REVENUE PCS MEMBER