Socialist Worker

PCS debate: ‘Why DWP executive voted against joining the July Public Sector strike’

A response from two members of the DWP executive to an article criticising the executive for not voting to strike alongside other public sector workers on 16-17 July and a rejoinder from the authors of the original article

Issue No. 2112

DWP union leaders made right decision

by Jane Aitchison and John McInally

A recent Socialist Worker article attacked the Socialist Party in the PCS civil service workers’ union over the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) executive’s decision not to take strike action on 16-17 July.

In calling the decision of the DWP leadership that has delivered 21 days of action in four years – including action in solidarity with the teachers – against the government’s attacks on jobs, services and pay a “disgrace” Socialist Worker supporters insult DWP activists and members, who overwhelmingly support the decision.

If the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members on the PCS national executive felt the decision was a “disgrace” it would have been their duty to raise it on the executive – they didn’t.

The SWP took a similar approach in 2005 when it called the PCS pensions deal “shabby”.

This deal secured the pensions rights of all existing civil servants – with 98 percent accepting the deal in a membership ballot.

It is equally misguided on the current issue. A genuine Marxist approach rejects the theory of the continual “offensive”.

Before engaging in such a serious issue as strike action, a serious leadership is compelled to take into account all factors, not least the mood of members who face such action.

The DWP executive considered that on this occasion members would want the union to enter negotiations, given both the five days of action in this current pay campaign, plus the concessions won by that action.

It was a finely balanced decision not to call action but, we believe, the correct one.

To have called action without full membership support would potentially have had catastrophic consequences for the DWP pay campaign and the forthcoming national ballot itself.

The Socialist Party is at the forefront in trying to deliver united public sector strike action.

The successful motion at PCS conference for a civil service-wide ballot over pay, which the national executive is currently mobilising support for, was proposed by general secretary Mark Serwotka and was seconded by Jane Aitchison.

Jane Aitchison is the PCS DWP group president and John McInally is the PCS vice president and PCS DWP group vice president. They both write in a personal capacity

A missed opportunity as unity is needed

Dave Owens and Steve West

Given the fraternal debate at the group executive over whether to strike beside local government workers, we are surprised at Jane and John’s reaction to our article.

This said nothing we did not say during that meeting. We believe we were right to say the vote against action was a setback and a disgrace.

We are proud to be part of the group executive, which has called 21 days of strike action in the last four years. We recognise members’ sacrifice and the hard work of activists in delivering this action.

Therefore we reject Jane and John’s accusation that we insulted activists and members by arguing that the group executive’s decision was wrong.

This is one of a number of differences we’ve had with the Socialist Party, including our attitude to the pensions deal.

Although that deal was an achievement, we did call it “shabby” as it means that those who have begun work since the deal have inferior pensions rights to other workers.

In our pay dispute, the Socialist Party suddenly changed its position. John said at a meeting on the Sunday before the group executive met that PCS would do everything in its power to co-ordinate this action with other public sector unions, including in July if Unison was to go ahead with the strike.

It is very disappointing that the Socialist Party voted directly against that position.

Even if Unison and Unite had not been taking action we would have argued for a strike, as 1 July was our pay settlement date when every member received a below inflation pay increase – for 40 percent of us nothing!

Socialists are not, of course, for strikes under all conditions, or (generally) without preparation.

But we knew for weeks that local government workers were going to strike in mid-July and that this would be a crucial part of the fightback against Gordon Brown’s pay curbs.

We should have been alongside them, strengthening the action and showing the public sector unity needed to win over pay.

Our duty now is to build for the national ballot in September. Socialist Party, SWP and all other activists need to work closely together to do that.

Dave Owens and Steve West are members of the PCS DWP group executive. They both write in a personal capacity

See Socialist Worker’s original article » The PCS DWP executive is wrong to say no to strikes

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Article information

Tue 29 Jul 2008, 18:10 BST
Issue No. 2112
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