The ballot of 270,000 civil service workers in the PCS union for a programme of industrial action over pay is to finish on Friday of this week.
The ballot draws together all the different civil service departments in dispute over pay. It creates the possibility of united strike action with other unions.
Low pay is a big problem among civil service workers. A quarter of the workforce earns less than £16,500 and thousands earn just above the minimum wage.
Some 40 percent of staff in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will have no pay rise this year and 30 percent of staff in the Identity and Passport Service are in the same situation.
Coastguard watch assistants had to get a special pay rise just to keep their pay above the minimum wage.
PCS activists have reported a strong and determined mood among the members for action over the government’s below-inflation pay offers, which will have a deep impact on workers’ living standards.
Kate Douglas, the joint branch secretary of the PCS DWP Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, told Socialist Worker, “Everyone I have spoken to is voting to take strike action.
“People see the government handing billions to the banks, think that we are not asking for a fraction of that and say that the money should be given to public sector workers and public services.
“I sent out a circular to members in the south east of England that included an article about how past strikes had defended our jobs, pay and services. I have had a lot of feedback from people about how important that was.”
Martin John, of the PCS national executive, told Socialist Worker, “There is a deep groundswell of anger among PCS members following two years of over the top pay control from the government.
“This means that public sector pay is in very poor shape. It is not clear how the effects of the economic crisis will play in the ballot. Management have tried to play on people’s fears about it in letters to staff.
“If the ballot is successful the union is planning a national strike followed by a programme of action involving different departments that will go into 2009.”