Civil service workers will be balloted for strikes over pay, which could see 150,000 workers walk out.
This follows a near-unanimous vote at the PCS union conference in Brighton on Tuesday.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told delegates, "Our members deserve a fair pay rise to make up for years of pay restraint.
"But we have been told there is only 1 percent in the budget for pay unlike other parts of the public sector.
"This is a disgraceful way for the government to treat its own workforce."
Earlier shadow chancellor John McDonnell addressed the conference and said that when Labour is elected “trade unions are going into government” with us.
He also expressed support for the strike saying, “We’ll be alongside you on every picket line.”
Workers in government departments have suffered a pay freeze or 1 percent increases—well below inflation—for some eight years. And the Tories have told PCS to expect yet another real terms pay cut next year or sacrifice terms and conditions for a measly 2 or 3 percent.
PCS activists at department group conferences on Monday had already begun rallying to launch the ballot.
Marianne Owens from the PCS’s HM Revenue and Customs group executive committee (GEC) told her conference, “We want the pay rise that we deserve.
“We’re not going to accept changes to terms and conditions in return for a paltry 2 or 3 percent.
“That doesn’t come anywhere near what we’ve actually lost over the last decade.”
More than 50 percent of PCS members will need to take part in the ballot to lawfully strike—a result of Tory anti-union laws.
But activists can build a campaign to win a strike vote after a strong consultative ballot last year. More than 79 percent voted to say they would be ready to strike, on a turnout of almost 49 percent—over 70,000 members.
Marianne said, “The consultative ballot was ground-breaking. Overall we just missed the 50 percent threshold, but it’s the biggest turnout we’ve had in a ballot in PCS’s history.
“Our activists and members are no different to the activists and members in the CWU who achieved a 73 percent turnout in their recent strike ballot.
“We’re no different to the UCU where they had a magnificent 88 percent yes vote for strikes with a 58 percent turnout.
“We can see this 50 percent hurdle as a challenge. We need to go back to our branches and start to build.”
Activists in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) group were also gearing up for a ballot.
A pay deal in 2016 saw some DWP workers get pay increases above 1 percent over four years in exchange for worse terms and conditions.
Some activists worry that this will mean members in the DWP will be less willing to strike against the pay cap.
Yet speaking in a personal capacity Steve West from the DWP GEC told Socialist Worker, “Whenever I speak to members they’re all up for a fight over pay.”
And Kate Douglas, from Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire DWP, told the conference that a strong campaign involving activists and members makes a crucial difference.
“Members in my branch feel very strongly about pay and feel quite let down by the four-year employee deal on pay,” she said.
“But since the indicative ballot last year my branch has worked really hard. We have recruited nine new reps since February alone. We’ve got membership density of 95 percent in some offices.”
She added, “Now is the time to fight. The government clearly is not going to move voluntarily.”
Serwotka told activists that a strike vote wouldn’t just be “a mandate to protest as some form of letting off steam”.
He said members should “take a leaf from the lecturers in the UCU to take action that will have an effect that they cannot ignore.”
He added that a ballot would need to take place quickly to avoid being overtaken by annual pay talks. Yet he also said a strong ballot result could be “leverage” in talks.
Marianne told the HMRC conference, “Look at what we oppose—a Tory government in chaos. Brexit, Grenfell, Windrush. They’re a minority government propped up by the DUP.
“Could they really withstand sustained industrial action from the whole of the civil service?”
Serwotka said the union would wait for a response from the government and then “re-consult” members on taking action.
He also suggested the action could take the form of “targeted” strikes in the DVLA and the Border Force.
But the best way to show the government—and PCS members—that the union is serious about fighting would be to call immediate, hard hitting action involving the whole membership.