Socialist Worker

'Beyond expectations'

Hundreds of thousands of civil service workers in the PCS union struck on Friday of last week against job cuts and attacks on sick pay and pensions. As PCS members report, the strike showed the new spirit of resistance in the union.

Issue No. 1927

Civil servants marching in London

Civil servants marching in London

‘The strength of feeling, the unity of purpose, the confidence, the determination and the anger were in the air in every town and city across Britain on 5 November.

The strike exceeded all expectations. People turned out to picket for the first time in their lives. Young workers, older members, black and ethnic minority workers, women and disabled workers all joined picket lines.

We all felt part of a massive national response to a national attack. We sent out the message that we won’t be divided, we don’t accept the job cuts, we won’t let them attack our pensions and our sick pay, and we shall fight to defend public services.

The success of the strike and the messages of solidarity from other unions will have worried ministers. But we need to turn promises of support into joint action with other public sector unions.

This is the start, not the end, of the fightback.’

Sue Bond, PCS vice-president (pc)

‘Gordon Brown had high hopes of ignoring the action by civil service workers. He would have found it difficult.

Around 1,000 civil service workers started their demonstration outside the Treasury building in central London.

The march reflected the diversity of the civil service and was led by mainly young black women.

The demonstration got a lot of support from passers-by, especially when we chanted, “Can you see our bowler hats? We’re not faceless bureaucrats!”

At the rally RMT general secretary Bob Crow and PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka got standing ovations for talking about the need to stand together until Gordon Brown is forced to back down.’

Rachel Edwards, London

‘Glasgow was solid. Tax and passport offices, appeals and DWP offices were picketed from early morning.

Many of the pickets were young, and were experiencing their first strike. The mood was defiant. Management claimed that many offices were open, but that consisted of them standing at the door telling the public the office was closed.

Some 1,000 strikers from all over Scotland attended a rally in Glasgow.

We marched through the streets of Glasgow, along with banners from the FBU and AUT unions. The mood of the day was that this was not the end, but the beginning of the fight.’

Margaret Rose Garrity, Glasgow

‘In Sheffield the strike was very well supported. Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) picket lines were even larger than for the strikes over pay and performance, and management grades were out on strike in large numbers.

Pickets from the Manpower building noisily marched through town to the rally.’

Ian Dale, Sheffield

‘The support in Nottingham was fantastic. In every department we received reports that there was solid support for the strike.

Over 250 marched in Nottingham. They were joined by firefighters and other trade unionists.

The march stopped at the constituency office of Labour MP John Heppell, where a giant postcard and petitions were handed in to him.

At a packed rally strikers heard speakers from a wide layer of the public sector unions. Billy Hayes, the general secretary of the CWU union, spoke at the rally.

The clear feeling was that there was a need for further strike action on a national basis.’

Paul Williams, Nottingham

‘THE STRIKE was the biggest success we’ve had. It was much better than even the recent pay strikes in the DWP. People who didn’t come out on pay came out over this.

At a rally in Leeds there was a strong sense of solidarity. People from different unions were saying that all public sector workers are facing the same attacks. People were proud that PCS was leading the fightback against the current direction of the government.’

Simon Henderson, Leeds

‘Strike action resulted in the closure of the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Newspaper Library in Colindale and all the British Library reading rooms.

The British Library’s St Pancras building was visited by a delegation from the NUT teachers’ union with general secretary Steve Sinnott. A group of workers from the Channel Tunnel rail link who were holding a successful sit-in over union recognition rights also visited.’

Val Pearman, London

‘In Coventry the strike was well supported. We have 90 percent membership, and very few staff came in.

Our staff have been shocked by the announcement of job losses and attacks on services for the public.

They are already overworked, and believe that if the cuts go ahead they will struggle to provide a decent services.’

Donna Roberts, branch secretary Coventry PCS Inland Revenue

‘In Manchester delivery vans refused to cross picket lines. People joined the PCS.

A demonstration outside Baskerville House, which is threatened with closure, saw civil service workers converge from across the city. Kevin Curran, the GMB general secretary, addressed a packed rally.’

Rob Jackson, Manchester

‘Members from across the south west of England walked out in record numbers.

In Bristol 90 percent of the 500 staff were out in Inland Revenue offices.

Swindon and Bath had massive support, and Weston-super-Mare had just a handful of people cross the picket line.’

Adrian Probert, Bristol

One-day strike is solid across the country

‘Fife had an excellent level of support for the strike. All social security offices were closed. Job centres provided only a limited service.

The public support our campaign against the centralisation of their services in call centres. Kirkcaldy will be deeply affected by the closure of the social security office.

The next stage of the campaign is the national demonstration in Kirkcaldy on 20 November.’

Steve West, PCS steward Kirkcaldy job centre (PC)

‘Picket lines were well attended, and there were reports of people joining the union. In one office a manager came out to talk to members, and stayed out!

Rallies were held in Bristol, Plymouth and Exeter, and comrades from the CWU, NUT, Natfhe and the FBU spoke in support of the campaign.

We need to keep up the momentum, but there will have to be a further ballot. Branches must press for escalation of the campaign.’

Paula Walsh, Exeter

‘Edinburgh was always going to be important to the strike in Scotland because it is where most of the Scottish Executive ministers and buildings are based.

The signs were good before the strike, with overflowing meetings at the main workplaces and hundreds joining the union.

Virtually every office had a picket line. Many of the most enthusiastic pickets were the newest members.

At Saint Andrew’s House a manager admitted to activists the strike was effective.’

Neil Davidson, Edinburgh

‘The biggest civil service strike in a generation got off to a successful start in Southampton. It was good to see a picket line at both Inland Revenue Offices. The strike was solid.’

David Fegan, Southampton

Birthday treat for British Council

‘FRIDAY 5 November was the British Council’s 70th birthday. Unfortunately the workers had little to celebrate.

We had a lively picket in Manchester. From an office of 450 people, less than 60 went in. The membership of the PCS in the office is about 230.’

Shaun Tinsley, Manchester

‘Thousands of civil service workers across Newcastle supported the industrial action. Despite the fact that this was the seventh day of strike action taken by PCS members in the DWP, the Pensions Service branch at Tyne View Park continued to recruit new members right up to the strike.

Many other branches reported similar increases in union membership. At Tyne View Park support for the strike was particularly strong.

The campaign must go on to defend the services for those who need them most— pensioners, jobseekers and sickness benefit claimants.’

Dave Stead, Newcastle

‘THERE WERE a lot of new faces on the picket lines across Oxford. None of the people picketing at the Customs and Excise office had ever picketed before. The mood was great.’

Kate Douglas, Oxford

Socialist Worker would like to thank everyone who sent in reports and pictures of the strike. Sorry there was not enough space for all of them.

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Article information

Sat 13 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1927
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