In a long running battle over conditions, 6,000 PCS members in Job Centre Plus call centres struck on Monday. Pickets were defiant across the country, despite dirty tactics by Department for Work and Pensions management.
At every workplace in the run up to the strike management pulled workers into meetings to convince them not to join the action. But the strike was solid.
On the picket lines workers were enraged at the conditions they’ve had to endure. Pickets outside the Lonend office in Paisley described their working environment as “21st Century Dickensian Mills”.
“Every day we’re tied to computer screens and constantly monitored”, Colin Mack, a Lonend PCS steward, told Socialist Worker. “We deal with stressful situations, calls from people in real need, and the stress and pressure is multiplied by unachievable target times.”
“If we don’t meet targets, we’re summoned to explain. Our work is constant—we never stop dealing with calls. There’s only so much we can take.”
This anger was reflected everywhere. In Wales, the Caerphilly office strikers were outraged when management told workers the strike would cut into this month’s bonus.
And, one striker explained the systems workers have to use “are not fit for purpose.” They added, “The equipment used to monitor our calls isn't that ancient though!”
In Chorlton in Manchester—one of the best organised offices—the rep described support for the strike as “the best we’ve had.” The workers had to fight for a long time for the walkout and are determined to keep up the pressure.
Strikers told Socialist Worker that they felt emboldened by the strike. One said, “The fact that the action is on a Monday shows the union is now serious—that’s the busiest day in the office.”
“The work is relentless”, said another. “Every task has a set timing, to the minute, and we often can’t help people because if we stray from the script we get in trouble. It creates huge stress”.
That was why management’s attempts at the office to hold “team meetings” to undermine the strike were met only with one response—“Are we out for one day or two?”
In Sheffield, strikers at the Hartshead Square office said jobs at JSA Online were being privatised—outsourced to Capita, where pay and conditions are even worse.
Workers were also livid that a new system was being brought in for contact centre staff to monitor “every second of the working day, including when you get your breaks, so they know how long you're on your breaks”.
“Never mind Capita, more like they want us to have catheters!”, joked one picket.
John Ainslie, the rep at the Coventry office said workers have “had enough”. “We need more strikes and we need to unite all call centre workers—whether privatised or in the public sector—to fight together for decent conditions.”
And at Garston office in Liverpool, striker Dave Owens told Socialist Worker what the next steps should be. “There’s been excellent support here. We expected the strike to be strong, and then management’s efforts to weaken us blew up in their face.
“The concessions bosses quoted to us in their meetings have only been gained through strikes, so striking again can win much more. Fighting the cuts in the here and now is important, and it feeds into the momentum of the national fightback we’re part of.”
Thanks to Drew McEwan, Des Mannay, Mark Krantz, Julia Armstrong and Mark Collins for contributing to this report