Socialist Worker

Civil servants

Issue No. 1779

Many strikers in the Pathfinder offices are angry and disappointed about their national leaders sending the majority of them back to work on Friday of this week. Because every striker received 85 percent strike pay the PCS's strike fund was drained.

National leaders used the argument that the union could not afford to pay for an all-out strike of 2,500 workers any more to force most Pathfinder offices to reluctantly return to work. This is a retreat in the face of New Labour's onslaught, and has led to demoralisation in some offices.

The result is that in some offices where there have been lively and well supported strikes, some workers were hesitant about joining the national strike on Wednesday and Thursday.

Union members should not let the decisions of the national leadership divide them. Nobody should scab, and workers must stand solidly together to keep up the fight. This demoralisation is a direct result of the PCS's national strategy. PCS leaders should have realised that the union would soon run out of money. A national levy of £1 a week on all 270,000 members could have funded the strike. It is a disgrace that over three months into the dispute there is no collection sheet for the strikers.

It meant that management could just sit back and wait for crisis to hit the union's funds. The national round of strikes was supposed to be an additional show of strength to the continuing all-out strike by Pathfinder workers. Now it is an alternative. This will ease the pressure on the government and management.

The lessons from history

The strategy of rolling action and keeping disputes confined to certain offices is one that the left in the civil servants' unions has a long history of advocating. It has almost always led to demoralisation and defeat.

  • In 1982 strikes at the unemployment and benefit offices in Oxford and Birmingham were left isolated and went down to defeat.
  • In 1984 workers at the DHSS computer centre in Longbenton, Newcastle, struck against Tory attempts to drive wages down. Despite calls to bring all DHSS workers out, the union's national leadership allowed Longbenton workers to remain isolated for seven months and eventually lose their fight.
  • In 1987 regional civil servants' strikes gripped Britain in the battle for a better pay deal. But because the union delayed a ballot for national action the vote was then lost.

A similar strategy is again being followed in the Jobcentre Plus dispute. Selective action reduces the impact of any strike. It gives management the opportunity to plan and prepare. It would be far better to spread the all-out action to every job centre and benefits office. This would force New Labour and management onto the back foot, and is the way to win.

The union also needs to mobilise all its members to support the Jobcentre Plus strikers and defend the union from the government's attacks.

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Article information

Sat 15 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1779
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