THE STRIKE for safety by hundreds of civil servants in the PCS union in west London is set to turn into a national dispute. The strikers, in Brent and Lambeth in London, entered their fifth week of indefinite strike on Monday of this week.
They are striking against being forced to work in unscreened environments in the government's new Pathfinder department, an amalgamation of the employment and benefits services.
The workers deal with people who have been treated badly in a benefits system that has become harsher under Tory and New Labour governments. 'If you tell someone who's got no money that they can't have any then some people do react violently,' said Paul Beaumont, one of the strikers. 'Clients will sometimes manifest their frustrations on us.'
The strikers celebrated their fourth week of action with a lively 100-strong picket outside Wembley job centre on Friday of last week. 'It's the first time in years we've had this level of solidarity,' Paul told Socialist Worker.
The dispute could now spread to the over 50 other Pathfinder offices across Britain which have been balloted for industrial action over the last few weeks. The ballot results are due to be announced this Friday. At a meeting of PCS Pathfinder representatives in London last week there was a strong demand for national action.
The PCS national disputes committee has sanctioned ballots for action in offices in Makerfield near Wigan, and Fulham and Cricklewood in west London.
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'WE ARE not going to give in.' That was the message from the 3,000 PCS members in DEFRA who were on strike on Friday of last week over pay. This is the second such strike in a dispute which has also seen a series of well supported regional strikes.
Between the days of action an overtime ban and work to rule is adding to the pressure on management. Strikers are demanding an end to departmental pay disparities arising from the creation of DEFRA, in which former MAFF staff are paid up to £3,000 less than staff from the former DETR.
A 'final offer' said to be worth 4.93 percent was rejected by union members but then imposed. After an overwhelming vote for action management conceded an extra £1,000 to London staff and £750 elsewhere around the country. This was imposed and does not meet the PCS claim.
So far the action has been characterised by lively and good natured mass pickets with very few members crossing and many former non-members joining. Full time officials who had attempted to recommend the original offer have had to swing behind the dispute.
PCS members in London are now demanding that they are called out to join the selective action with strike pay within the next two weeks.
PCS UNION members in the Inland Revenue service have voted by 23,770 to 3,522 to reject a pay offer. The offer is a paltry 2.5 percent for most staff.