Socialist Worker

Strike shows new spirit

Young, lively and angry—the PCS civil service union held a hugely successful strike last week

Issue No. 1913

CIVIL SERVICE workers defied the government and beat their own expectations with a rock-solid strike last week.

Members of the PCS union in job centres and benefits

offices—the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)—struck for two days over pay.

The government’s plans to slash 104,000 jobs across the civil service served to intensify their anger over poverty pay and worsening conditions. Reports from scores of picket lines reveal the strength of feeling among the 98,000 PCS members in the DWP.

In most offices, more people struck and picket lines were bigger than in the last stoppage in April.

“The strike’s been a tremendous success,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka. “It’s shaken management and government ministers.”

The union is now discussing how to step up the pay fight.

There is now a clear mood in the PCS to escalate action.

Martin John, vice-president of the PCS’s DWP group executive, says, “We have recruited 6,000 extra members in the department in the last two months, bringing the total to 98,000.

“That shows the mood. If management do not make substantial concessions then the union group executive has to call further action in short order from its meeting on Friday of next week.”

At the same time the union is gearing up to fight over jobs across the civil service with a one-day strike in the autumn followed by further action, a mass lobby of Labour Party conference, and calls for solidarity from other unions.

Last week’s meeting of the TUC general council took a step towards coordinated action across the public sector over pensions, job losses and attacks on sick pay.

It issued a statement expressing “deep concern at the proposed 104,000 job cuts in the civil service, and the impact that these will have on the quality of and access to public services”.

The statement promised to “fully support the campaign of the civil service unions to defend the jobs of their members”.

Now public sector workers have to demand that their union leaders act on those words. The government’s strategy is to isolate the PCS, then move on to attack pensions, conditions and jobs across the public sector.

That’s why members of every union should take up the PCS’s call for coordinated action across the public sector.

Your reports

‘Confidence is growing day by day’

I’VE ONLY been a rep for a month and this is the first time I’ve organised a picket line. But it’s been brilliant. Hardly anyone has gone in, and they are managers.

I was on £11,070 a year when I started. Three years on and it’s only gone up to £12,500.

Loads of people like me in their early twenties have second jobs working in bars and the like, or have to claim the same benefits we are giving to the public.

You’re just not treated with respect at work.

I had strong opinions, and workmates suggested I stand as a rep. They’ve been really supportive, and I’m glad I’m standing up for them.
Emma Daley, Cavendish Court job centre, Sheffield

CONFIDENCE IS growing by the day. Friday’s picket was even better than Thursday’s.

Those few staff who worked were worried about losing pay rather than disagreeing with the strike.

Five asked to be contacted about joining the PCS, and one joined on the spot!

We got support from the Unison union rep and nurses from the nearby Chorlton Health Centre.

Even the car park attendant related his experiences in the FBU strike (of 1977!).

There is a new pride among trade unionists—and quite right too!

In Salford only 20 staff turned up for work in an office of 450. That’s in an office with no reps.

One manager at Chorlton admitted they were having serious difficulties, and others were heard openly criticising senior management.

The feeling from other strikers is very good, but we want to move forward.

Two-day strikes and selective action can be pushed to the margins—all-out action is needed. We are serious about winning.
Rob Jackson, Graeme House, Manchester

MORE PEOPLE out and bigger picket lines. This is one of the best supported strikes I’ve seen, and I’ve been in the union for 25 years.

The threatened job losses—announced by a Labour chancellor on TV—mean huge uncertainty.

Then there’s the PDS performance-related pay system. It is rationed so, no matter how hard you work, you can still get a pay rise below inflation.

There’s no doubt we have to step up what we are doing, and we are in a position to do that after this strike.
Margaret Oliver, Romford Jobcentre Plus

ABOUT 30 PCS members picketed Laurieston and the strike was 98 percent solid. The post van turned back as soon as the driver saw the picket line.

This was replicated across Glasgow. At Shettleston, hardly anyone was working. At Northgate, out of over 1,000 workers, fewer than 50 were in.

Everywhere the picket lines were stronger than during the last strike days. Northgate strikers said that they had even been picketing on Saturdays to enforce the overtime ban.
David Reynolds and Raymie Kiernan, Glasgow

Solidarity in the Post Office

I WAS amazed at my office when managers put up a notice to all staff suggesting we should not cross PCS picket lines during the strike.

Collections were to be made by a government agency member (short for scab) at a later time.

Never in all my 17 years has this happened.

So where did this order come from—government or senior management? Either way, it shows they don’t want to risk a fight with us.

It’s a perfect time to support our brothers and sisters on the picket line by identifying this mail and blacking it.

If anybody is suspended, we will take action.

Mark Serwotka is right. Today it’s the PCS, tomorrow it could be the CWU.

If the bosses think they can steal money without any resistance, they will.
Ken Penfold, Communication Workers Union rep, Woodford Green delivery office

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Article information

Sat 7 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1913
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