Up to 80,000 workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) struck for two days last week, bringing jobcentres, the pensions service and the Child Support Agency grinding to a halt.
The workers, members of the PCS civil service workers’ union, are in the forefront of challenging Gordon Brown’s public sector pay freeze.
The strike came after management imposed a three year below-inflation pay deal that will see around 40 percent of workers receive no rise at all next year.
Union activists across Britain reported that the strike was extremely solid.
Pickets at Graeme House in Chorlton, South Manchester, were clear that the offer was unacceptable. “A kick in the teeth,” is how Rob, one of the pickets, described it.
York PCS branch secretary Tanya Walker told Socialist Worker, “The government needs to recognise the real cost of living increases we face.
“We’ve never seen such a solid strike over pay.”
Around the country strikers were buoyed by visits from other groups of workers offering support. In Brighton, Unison and GMB union members visited the picket line.
Many strikers said that the anger over pay has been fuelled by huge job losses and other attacks on DWP staff.
Scott Fielding, PCS branch chair at Swansea pension centre, explained, “The pay dispute is the culmination of the attack on the civil service over the last five years.”
He said the lousy pay award “is the reward for taking on the work of the 30,000 civil service workers that the government saw fit to indiscriminately remove over the last few years.”
Shane Convey, chair of North East London PCS, told Socialist Worker that cuts make many DWP jobs more dangerous as claimants face longer waits, becoming increasingly agitated.
“Our strike has had a big impact,” Shane added. “We have shown the government that we provide an important service – we need to be recognised for it.”
Many workers are now discussing where the dispute goes from here.
Dave Owens, a member of the PCS DWP group executive, told Socialist Worker, “We need to ratchet up the pressure. In the building where I work there are people working for the Inland Revenue – they are balloting for action over pay.
“Many of them are asking why we weren’t out on strike together. There are a number of other ongoing disputes in the civil service.
“We have to try to involve workers from other departments and other unions in future action.”
Many other groups of workers are also feeling the effects of Brown’s public sector pay freeze. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka spoke during last week’s strike at a pay rally organised by the NUT teachers’ union.
He told the audience, “Sometimes you have to fight on your own. But if you fight alongside others, your chances of winning improve as a result.
“My message to the NUT is that if you move to a ballot over pay, it’s in your interests and our interests that if you’re going to take industrial action we should take it together.”
PCS DWP group executive member Steve West told Socialist Worker, “We have to keep up the momentum from the strike – and we need to plan more action.
“We also need to keep up a political campaign to keep the pressure on Brown. The government is under pressure on a number of fronts. Our action can have a big impact.”