Low paid civil servants on all-out strike were joined on Monday of this week by 250 workers in Makerfield in Lancashire. The workers voted to strike for three weeks after refusing to do management's dirty work and scab on the all-out strike by civil servants at the government's new Pathfinder offices.
'Wigan people don't scab!' said Graham Millington, a PCS branch chair in Makerfield, after pensions minister Ian McCartney visited Makerfield last week in an attempt to persuade workers not to strike.
Graham added, 'Management have picked on the wrong group of workers.' The Makerfield workers are the latest group to join the action by 2,500 civil servants in the government's new Pathfinder offices. The result of the national ballot of 75,000 job centre and Benefits Agency workers is due on Tuesday.
The government claims that the civil servants' strike is against those claiming benefits. In fact it is the government which has launched a vicious offensive against both the poorest people claiming benefits and the low paid civil servants it wants to do its dirty work.
The government wants the workers to run its new Jobcentre Plus offices, without safety screens. New Labour claims these offices are more pleasant and relaxed than the old job centres and Benefits Agency offices. 'If we don't change the way we operate, we're going to carry on with Full Monty type offices,' claimed social security secretary Alistair Darling last week. In fact the new offices are a central plank of the government's draconian plans for cracking down on lone parents and the disabled.
Some of the most vulnerable people on benefits will be forced to attend the new offices for tough interviews. Workers will be forced to subject needy people to intensive interrogation, and often forced to cut their already meagre benefits.
New Labour has gone on the offensive against the strike because it knows a victory by the civil servants would be a dent in its war against those on welfare. That is why it is crucial that union leaders keep up the action. Strikers in Brent and Streatham in London have called a lobby of the union's national executive next Wednesday, the day after the national ballot result. They are demanding that if there is a yes vote in the ballot union leaders call national strike action in December and continue funding selective action in the Pathfinder offices.
Lobby the PCS National Executive, Wednesday 5 December, 11.30am, PCS Headquarters, 160 Falcon Road, London SW11 (Clapham Junction station).