Some 270,000 members of the PCS civil service workers’ union are set for a national strike and a programme of hard-hitting industrial action after voting for action over pay.
Some 54 percent of members voted to take action over below-inflation pay in a ballot with a 35 percent turn-out.
The PCS’s national executive was to meet on Thursday of this week to decide how it should proceed. The union must push forward with action.
While the vote was close, the anger among PCS members about the low pay that we face runs deep and members are serious about fighting for the six demands of our national pay campaign.
There was a strong feeling for action at members’ meetings across the country during the ballot.
The mood shifted towards the end of the ballot as people became more and more agitated about the money being thrown at the banks, while the government says there is no money for its workers.
The vote shows the minimum support there is for action. The real level is much higher.
A quarter of civil service workers earn less than £16,500.
With the government’s measure of inflation running at 5.2 percent, Gordon Brown’s policy of imposing pay curbs at around 2 percent on public sector workers is hitting the lowest paid.
No group should settle for a deal less than the RPI rate of inflation.
Tens of thousands of PCS members in a number of departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Transport and the Home Office, have already struck this year over pay.
Now the whole civil and public service workforce in the PCS will be united in the dispute, increasing the strength of any action we take.
The PCS has played a prominent and praiseworthy role in arguing for co-ordinated strike action over pay across the public sector unions.
This remains possible with ongoing industrial action ballots of teachers in the NUT union and health workers in Unite. In Scotland, 150,000 local government workers are balloting over a new pay offer, with a recommendation from their unions to reject it.
We should also demand that the TUC calls a day of action to coincide with one of the strike days as agreed at TUC congress.
The best way to confront Brown is for all the unions to come together. But a strike by the PCS itself will be a powerful signal of defiance against public sector workers being made to pay for the crisis. It can act as a catalyst for other groups of workers to join the resistance.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said, “The hardworking people who keep this country running, from passports, immigration and justice, to coastguards, tax and job centres, face increasing financial hardship because of the government’s public sector pay cap.
“Pay freezes and real term pay cuts are simply not sustainable when you are earning a pittance and experiencing double digit rises in food, fuel and housing costs.
“Bailing out bankers should not be at the expense of those who deliver public services or those who rely on them.
“This ballot result illustrates that they are prepared to stand up for fair pay.”
The union’s activists need to use the weeks before the beginning of our industrial action to get out to members and argue with them about the importance of striking. They also need to be making links with other public sector unions in their local area as a way of increasing the solidarity across the movement.
Sue Bond is the vice-president of the PCS. Andy Reid and Paul Williams are members of the PCS national executive. They write in a personal capacity