A quarter of a million workers struck today, Wednesday, against cuts in the civil service.
As chancellor George Osborne prepared to announce his budget, every section of the government was hit by the action—from the Home Office to the restaurants that serve subsidised grub to the House of Lords. So were courts, jobcentres and museums around Britain.
Civil service workers face massive job losses and attacks on their pension. And after five years without a pay rise, they are now being offered a measly 1 percent. This means that nearly a sixth of the income has been wiped out by inflation.
The strikes were the start of a new programme of strikes by the PCS union. Its general secretary Mark Serwotka has called for other unions to join them on the next strike on 26 June.
Anna Owens, a branch rep at the HMRC tax office in Euston Tower, central London, said, “This is a call to unite against the government. Now is the time to decide which side you are on. The Tories represent the millionaires but we represent the millions. We can beat them when we unite together.”
Following the morning’s pickets, there are set to be rallies and marches around Britain at lunchtime.
Eight workers braved sleet and rain to picket the DWP office in Wath, south Yorkshire. “We need to be all out together” said one picket. “We want to see the TUC’s vote on a general strike turned from words into action”.
There were 20 pickets at Northgate passport offices in Glasgow.
Derek Thomson from the PCS national executive told Socialist Worker, “This is just the first day of a programme against the government's austerity agenda which is directly impacting not only our members but all those who rely on public services”.
In north London management were mainly left trying to keep Palmer’s Green jobcentre open by themselves as most workers stayed away. Outside, one worker celebrated her last day in the job by joining the picket line.
Two floors of the National Portrait Gallery were closed by the strike. And at Inner London Crown Court, strikers convinced workers who weren’t in the union not to cross the picket line – and some then joined it.
Robert, a court usher, was one of them. He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been in the civil service for nine years but I haven’t joined the union yet.
"But I thought that with the attacks on our pay and pensions, it’s time to do something.
“A lot of people are angry and want to see something done. If enough people take action it’s bound to have an effect.”
An admin worker on the picket line explained that job losses hurt the service as well as the workers.
She said, “We used to have the people available to give a good service. We’d see certain people regularly so we’d know where their case was up to. Now we can’t do that.”
Fidel McLean is a PCS rep at Peckham job centre. He told Socialist Worker, “Around 40 percent of people working in job centres are claiming benefits, such as housing tax credit or housing benefit.
“So we are not the enemy of people on benefits. We don’t like having to sanction people.
"There should be a campaign linking unions and claimant groups to fight these attacks.”
In central Manchester as well as in London, PCS members were joined by members of the Unite union at the homes and communities agency that regulates social landlords.
Many strikers were pleased that the PCS has called more action after today’s strike. But they also wanted the action to be bigger, and to involve other unions.
One worker at Peckham job centre said, “The downfall after the strike on 30 November 2011 was that unions didn’t keep up the momentum. If they had called more strikes, we would have won.”
Laurence, who works at the Tate Modern in London, agreed. “We need to hang in there as long as we can,” she said. “We don’t have a choice. Things will keep getting worse if we don’t fight.”
Strikers force Lords to miss a meal
Parliament Lords go hungry for attacking workers’ pay
Millionaires in the House of Lords will have to go without a subsidised grill today, as the strike closed three of their restaurants.
Chefs, waiters and checkout staff there are furious at proposals to cut their overtime rates in half.
“Some of the lower paid workers will lose out heavily,” PCS steward John Beck told Socialist Worker. “We want to make sure this doesn’t happen.
“And we face the threat of privatisation if we refuse to sign the new contracts.”
Bosses say they need to save money on the subsidy. But it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to take it from the rich Lords instead of the workers.
John was one of around 80 PCS members on strike. And GMB union members may soon be joining them in further action.
“There was a really high response when we held an indicative ballot,” said John.
“For us today’s strike is an opportunity to highlight what’s happening to us, and to support workers across the public sector who are facing this kind of situation.”