Civil service workers at a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefit centre in Plymouth ended their second day of a 48-hour strike on Friday.
The members of the PCS union are fighting against the closure of their office, which could see as many as 20 people made compulsorily redundant.
Robin Nicholl, south west regional DWP organiser for the PCS told Socialist Worker the strike had been well supported.
“The office was pretty desolate. There were very few people at work yesterday and today. So it’s had an impact,” he said.
“We had a good presence on the picket line on each day. There were good amounts of ordinary members there affected by the closure, but we also had other PCS members as well as the local Labour MP, Luke Pollard.
“We had a journalist from the local paper and it’s really got people talking around the city. Lots of cars beeped their horns as they passed. And we’ve had lots of messages of support from all parts of the PCS.”
The planned closure and relocation is part of a national wave of cuts hitting benefit centres and jobcentres across the DWP.
Robin explained that the closure could force many workers out of their jobs.
“There are 350 members of staff that the department is looking to relocate from the office in the city centre to a site in the north of the city.
“For many people who live in different parts of the city and surrounding area, that results in a massively increased journey to work and seriously disrupts the work-life balance. For a number of people it puts them out of reasonable daily travel, so those people are left at risk of redundancy.”
He added, “Thirty people have already been given notice of dismissal by means of redundancy voluntarily. Voluntary redundancy terms are better than compulsory redundancies so they’ve been manoeuvred into that situation.
“There are others who aren’t prepared to take voluntary redundancy and are at risk of being made compulsorily redundant”.
The redundancies could also harm benefit claimants across the country. “The people being dismissed are largely long-serving, experienced members of staff,” explained Robin.
“A lot of those deliver employment and support allowance to some of the most vulnerable claimants around the country. Taking at least 30 experienced people out of the mix will really tear a bit of a gash in the fabric of the welfare system.”
The strike this week was the second in the battle to stop the closure. Workers at the benefit centre struck for a day early last month. But bosses have shown little sign of budging.
Robin said, “There have been negotiations at national level with DWP, but frankly no movement on their part. They’re determined to press ahead with their office closures nationwide despite the consequences.”
Bosses’ attitude underlines the need for national, coordinated action across the DWP against the cuts programme in its entirety.
Every trade union has to support the strikers in Plymouth—and PCS members at other DWP offices threatened with cuts should join them. But there should also be a national strike ballot across the DWP.