Socialist Worker

Mark Serwotka: strikes can beat the pay limits

As 270,000 civil service workers prepare to strike over pay, PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka spoke to Socialist Worker about the strike and the next steps in the campaign

Issue No. 2126

Civil service workers are beginning a renewed fight over pay

Civil service workers are beginning a renewed fight over pay

Around 270,000 civil service workers in the PCS union will strike against below-inflation pay on Monday of next week.

They include workers in benefits offices, job centres, art galleries and people who administer driving tests.

The PCS is led by general secretary Mark Serwotka. He spoke to Socialist Worker about the strike and how to take the campaign forward.

‘Most of the workers who will strike next Monday are on startlingly low pay, with one in four earning less than £16,000 a year and more than half earning less than £20,000.

In fact 30,000 of our members in government departments earn a wage that is only just above the minimum wage.

When the national minimum wage was increased to £5.73, six government departments had to make an emergency improvement to their pay rates just to comply with the law.

The PCS union has already taken a lot of industrial action over pay during the last year.

But now the union has proposed three months of action over pay, and our members have backed that position with their votes.

The meetings that I have attended around the country have been good, and there is massive anger at the government – particularly the way that the banks have had billions thrown at them but workers are still getting nothing.

There is no doubt that the wider economic picture has had an effect on workers in government departments.


Our members have shown their steely determination to fight for something better.

They voted for strikes knowing that they were voting for a lot more than one strike day – they were voting for a serious campaign of action to win better pay.

The government may have thought that because there has not been co-ordinated action between the public sector unions over pay since April – despite the motion backing it that was passed at TUC conference – that the PCS would not be prepared to put up a fight.

But they were wrong.

Everyone in the PCS hopes that we can have joint action with other unions. But we are equally confident that if we have to go it alone we have the power to win.

For that reason, the strike on Monday is of critical importance.

The campaign will continue after Monday with a national overtime ban which, given the amount of cuts that the government has made to staffing, will have quite an effect on many departments.

Another part of our strategy is to follow Monday’s strike with waves of sector by sector strikes across government departments.

By being flexible about when we act, we also hope to be able to link up with others, like the 100,000 health workers in the Unite union who are being balloted over pay.

I’m struck by the fact that, whenever I speak at meetings around the country, people from other unions come.

Not only are they very supportive of the PCS’s fight but they also ask why their unions aren’t fighting over pay.

Everyone knows that the more people join the struggle, the better our chances of beating the government.

So I want to appeal to workers in every trade union, but particularly those in other public sector unions, to join us on the picket lines on Monday.

Our employers have made a bigger effort in the run up to this strike to intimidate people and put them off striking. That makes the question of solidarity even more important.

I’m hoping to see delegations from other unions on our marches and rallies too.

But the biggest way in which other trade unionists can support our fight is by raising the question of fighting over pay in their own unions – and by calling on them to implement the unanimous policy of the TUC, which is to coordinate strike action until the government changes its pay policy.’

The PCS strike takes place on Monday 10 November. Check this site for news and reports from the picket lines

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Tue 4 Nov 2008, 18:30 GMT
Issue No. 2126
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