HUNDREDS OF Inland Revenue workers in the PCS civil servants' union unofficially walked out of their offices for 15 minutes on Friday of last week. The workers were protesting against the crisis caused by the government's new tax credit programme which left Britain's poorest families waiting for vital money.
The chaos has led to a massive increase in workloads and stress for Inland Revenue workers. There were nine million calls in one day to contact centres. The workers walked out in East Kilbride, Coatbridge, Dunfermline, Sunderland and Manchester. This followed an angry debate at the Inland Revenue PCS group conference earlier in the week.
'Our members have pulled out all the stops to make sure that claimants receive their payments as quickly as possible,' says Graham Steel, PCS national officer. 'They understand that the people lodging claims desperately require the payments and are sympathetic to their frustration. Staff have staged these spontaneous protests because they feel they are not receiving the support they deserve from management.'
OVER 300 civil servants struck for half a day in Liverpool on Friday of last week. The PCS union members, who work for the Home Office, are angry at appalling working conditions and the shoddy computer system.
A lively picket line was maintained from 7am till noon. Workers at Litherland House in Bootle said that the office, originally designed for 200, now holds nearly 350 people. One worker said, 'People often try to get out of working here as soon as they can. The temperature in here can go above 80 degrees and the air conditioning fails us. Maggots fall on our desks from the ceiling!'
Strikers know they are in a potentially very strong position as all Home Office staff have their wages put through the Liverpool office. Pickets also told of how the privatised computer system constantly becomes inoperable and infuriates them.
Talks with management were held on Friday afternoon. Union officials say that the Home Office is not taking their claims seriously. Pickets were determined that the Home Office solves all of the problems. The common feeling was that bosses will only listen to more hard-hitting action.
Department of Work and Pensions
LAST WEEK'S PCS civil servants' union Department of Work and Pensions group conference followed a massive shift to the left in the group executive elections. The Left Unity group now has a 32 to four majority.
There is no doubt that the left is going to be severely tested in the coming year as New Labour attempts to take on the PCS as a first step to imposing its plans for 'welfare' US-style. PCS have submitted a pay claim for a minimum increase of £1,200 and an end to all performance related pay.
The employer seems certain to respond with an offer that does nothing to alleviate poverty pay for administration grades, and bases executive grade increases almost entirely on performance. To let the bosses get away with this would be catastrophic. The new appraisal system signals their intention to introduce individual pay next year, marginalising the PCS.
Conference was in the mood to fight not only over pay, but also over staffing cuts and attacks on conditions. Activists will expect the left leadership to lead from the front. The campaign needs to start now, fighting on individual issues and linking them to New Labour's attack on workers' rights and the welfare state.
Phil Pardoe, group executive committee member (personal capacity)