“WE WERE told at 9am our office was destined for closure. Everybody thought, ‘Let’s walk,’ and so we did. About eight offices in Fife walked out, involving around 200 people and shutting some of the offices down.”
That’s how one PCS civil service union activist described the magnificent unofficial walkout that hit offices across Fife and elsewhere in Scotland last week.
The walkouts came in response to New Labour’s announcement that it wants to shut 42 civil service workplaces.
Social security offices, job centres and other offices are set to close as part of the government’s assault on workers. Gordon Brown wants to slash 104,000 jobs.
Steve West, another PCS member in Kirkcaldy, Fife, told Socialist Worker, “Tony Blair said at the TUC conference that he was prioritising the lives, living standards and quality of life of Britain’s hard working families.
“If anyone believed he was genuine, this illusion must surely have been dispelled by the announcement on Thursday of last week that benefits offices up and down the country would be closing.
“When management announced the decision there were walkouts throughout Fife, where the Kirkcaldy social security office is one of those selected for closure.
“A 30-strong delegation of PCS members from the office immediately went to protest at the offices of the local MP.
“The cuts don’t just mean that most of us are very likely to lose our jobs. They are also part of the government’s agenda of centralising benefit processing in call centres.
“The pensions service has already been centralised in Dundee, and pensioners report that they have great difficulty getting through to the centre by phone. There is no one to speak to face to face when they have a query or complaint.
“This will now be the prospect faced by people claiming Income Support, Incapacity Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance.
“There are proposals for PCS to organise mass demonstrations against these savage cuts. This needs to happen as soon as possible.”
Eleven offices walked out around Scotland. They were joined by workers in the benefits appeals service in Liverpool and Manchester.
Richard Capps, who works at the Weston-super-Mare social security office which is threatened with closure, said, “A mood of depression has hit the office.
“When the announcement was made everyone was stunned. Gordon Brown says it is to do with efficiency, but it is cost cutting. New Labour is more Tory than the Tories.
“It will be good to get a fightback going.”
Phil Pardoe, a PCS group executive committee member, told Socialist Worker, “The response of workers in Scotland, Liverpool and Manchester is exactly what we want.
“It is right that we fight to win the upcoming ballot across the union for a strike on 5 November against the cuts.
“The closures are the first of a series of announcements, each of which will get progressively worse. This is not a good deal for anyone—the workers or the service users.
“The union has got to fight and win.”