Over 80,000 civil service workers in the PCS union struck a blow against Gordon Brown’s public sector pay freeze when they took strike action on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
The workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) struck against the imposition of a three-year pay deal, which means that around 40 percent of them will face a zero percent “rise” this year.
With inflation running at around 4 percent this is a major attack on workers’ living standards.
DWP workers are among the lowest paid in the public sector. The starting salary for an administrative assistant in the department is £12,500.
The government has also announced plans to close 200 offices in the department and cut another 12,000 jobs, on top of 30,000 cuts already announced.
On the picket lines, many strikers were discussing where the dispute goes next. Union members were buoyed by the prospect of striking with others in the public sector.
“We need to go for a strike alongside the teachers and lecturers, who are currently balloting for a strike on 24 April,” said Steve West, a DWP worker and member of the PCS’s group executive in the DWP. “This should be national action involving the whole union over the attacks we face.
“Joint action would have a much bigger impact, give people a boost and show that we are not on our own. Every public sector worker is facing these attacks.
“People are always asking why is it just us taking strike action so they would be pleased at the prospect of taking action with other people.”
While many picket lines were relatively small, the strike did have a significant impact.
Reports from around the country suggest it was just as well – or better – supported as the last two-day strike in December.
“There were pickets at every office in Glasgow,” said Margaret Rose Garrity, a PCS steward.
“Between 80-100 people gathered at a rally at lunchtime. The Scottish TUC president Phil McGarry talked about the need for united action across the public sector. The message of the rally was that we’re not giving up until we win.”
“All the reports from across the Fife region suggest the strike has been very well supported,” said Steve West.
“Some offices may be open but they are only offering a limited service. At Kirkcaldy job centre, which is on Gordon Brown’s home turf, the public had to be ushered away.
“The Child Support Agency in Kirkcaldy has seen the best support for any of our strikes. Reps at Falkirk, said that the strike was much better than usual. Out of 1,100 workers, only 250 went in – a significant improvement on past strikes.”
David Stead, the vice chair of the PCS Tyneview Park branch in Newcastle, said, “The turnout from our branch was good, with 12 PCS members on the picket line. I know that the feeling against this imposed pay deal is as strong as ever.
“Teachers from the NUT union and lecturers from the UCU union, who are both balloting over pay, joined the picket.”
“We had a decent picket at Exchange House in Watford and good support for the strike,” said James Meller, the chair of PCS’s Watford DWP branch. “Six people joined the union in the run-up to the strike, which was pleasing. Often new starters are sceptical about the union, particularly if there is industrial action, but we are glad to have recruited them.
“There was good support for the action across the region.”
Dave Owens, a member of the PCS DWP group executive and a worker in Liverpool, said, “A lunchtime rally in Liverpool on Monday heard reports that, if anything, less people went into work this time.
“There were more pickets at every office, which means it was a much more active strike here than last December’s action.
“At my workplace, Employer Direct Liverpool, more people struck than last time.”
Kate Douglas, the joint branch secretary of the PCS Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire DWP branch, said, “The strike had more impact this time round at Milton Keynes job centre, where they had their second ever picket line, and at the social fund processing centre.”
Many in the DWP are already looking to link up with other groups of civil service and public sector workers who are in dispute over pay.
“In my office people are discussing whether we should increase the action and whether we could maintain the level of support if we did,” James Meller told Socialist Worker.
“I think we need to look at targeting action at areas that will have a big effect.
“We should join with the workers in other departments who are facing attacks over pay. I can’t see our management shifting without wider action that will force the government’s hand.”