Socialist Worker

Big strike on agenda

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1864

CIVIL servants' PCS union leaders warned the government last week that it would not stand for the low pay many of their members face. Left wing general secretary Mark Serwotka announced that the union was preparing to coordinate strike action across ten government departments over pay.

He has also called for a national day of action to protest over pensions and the plan to raise the retirement age for sections of public sector workers. He will raise this issue at next month's TUC conference.

The Treasury has imposed a pay rise cap for almost 120,000 civil servants of 3.7 percent this year. Many workers were promised that their pay would be raised to the proper rate for the job within a set number of years. This is under threat because of the Treasury's behaviour.

The biggest group affected is the 85,000 PCS members in the Department of Work and Pensions. The pay cap could also affect over 25,000 other union members. Mark Serwotka said, 'A quarter of Britain's civil servants earn less than £13,000 a year. Pay rises are not being paid on time. Some 10,000 people in the Department of Work and Pensions alone are earning less than £10,000 a year. It is not acceptable to us that we have a situation where women are earning 5 percent less than men for doing the same job and there is endemic low pay. If the government's tight cash limit means our members have to continue claiming benefits and are on appallingly low wages, and our women members are not getting equal pay, then we have to consider all options.'

A left wing national executive have just been elected to run the union. 'This dispute has been brewing for several years,' Sue Bond, PCS national vice-president, told Socialist Worker. 'The Tories broke up national pay bargaining in the civil service over a decade ago. The Labour government has stepped up its ideological offensive. It wants fragmented pay, pay rates linked to market forces, weaker resistance to attacks on services. All this goes hand in hand with the centralised drive to cut union facility time for members, the office closures, performance-related pay. The right wing leadership of the union went along with this. We are facing a centralised offensive-we need centralised resistance. This can't just be something called by the leadership-it needs to be taken up by the membership. There is a lot of anger around, but it's a matter of mobilising it. If we unite all the departments it means you don't just have these separate pockets of anger and it can build people's confidence. We've put the government on notice now. Mark Serwotka is meeting the Treasury ministers in September and we'll see what happens from there. This is what the left executive were elected for. We've got a mandate to challenge management and the government. We have to make a difference and that's what we're doing. The government is not going to just roll over. We need a mass campaign, involving local rallies and all the members.'

'The Treasury wants to impose a pay ceiling across the public services,' says Martin John, union national executive member. 'There is a huge well of bitterness about pay and other issues, particularly in the Department of Work and Pensions. It is an explosive mixture. The government has got itself into a right mess. A big chunk of the public sector could be involved in a united dispute. There is big potential to face the government down.'

'The mood in the offices is that people are pissed off,' says Phil Pardoe, London civil servant and member of the Department of Work and Pensions group executive. I went to one office to do a meeting and told people there was a strike ballot coming up. People said, they didn't care what it was about-they were in favour of it. In London people are fed up over the staff cuts in Department of Work and Pensions offices. There is real contempt for management. Members have been ten to one in favour of striking against job cuts in London at all the meetings in London. A strike ballot could start at the end of next week over that. The left leadership has got to deliver now. Pay is the number one issue in the civil service. It unites everyone. It is essential that we have coordinated and effective industrial action to win.'

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Article information

Sat 16 Aug 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1864
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