THE NEW Labour government could face a strike by tens of thousands of workers in job centres across Britain if the current strike is escalated to national action.
Workers in the Pathfinder job centres in Brent and Streatham in London have already been on all-out strike since the beginning of September in the dispute over working conditions. They are set to be joined by every worker in the 50 new Pathfinder job centres on Monday of next week after a 60 percent yes vote for action. The many hundreds of workers will hold an all-out strike over health and safety at work.
The action is against New Labour's plans to open its national network of Pathfinder offices on the Monday without protective screens for workers. Job centre staff are sometimes the nearest target for frustrated claimants who face ever tighter rules on their benefit claims. The workers say they need to keep the screens for protection against people who are so desperate they lash out.
The workers want to escalate the strike even further. The PCS union leadership has agreed to begin a national ballot over the strike. This would massively escalate the dispute and put intense pressure on the New Labour government.
Phil Pardoe, branch secretary of PCS inner London, spoke to Socialist Worker about the first step for the growing dispute. 'It's vitally important that strike action takes place when the Pathfinder offices are officially launched on Monday of next week,' he said.
'It is great that all the offices will be out together. The best way we'll win this dispute is by a national strike and building support for the ballot. I've been doing a lot of meetings in offices lately, and there's a lot of enthusiasm for a ballot for strike action. At the Wimbledon office 30 out of the 40 PCS members attended a car park meeting in the pouring rain at lunchtime. There's generally a mood for a strike.'
Solidarity with the strikers is essential. The pickets are urging supporters in London to join two mass pickets in Streatham and Harlesden from 7.30am on Monday morning. Other picket lines will be set up at offices around the country.