Socialist Worker

Civil service workers set to start a national strike ballot

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2606

PCS activists campaigning over pay (main) are backed by John McDonnell (left)

PCS activists campaigning over pay (main) are backed by John McDonnell (left) (Pic: PCS)

Civil service workers are set to ballot for strikes to end the Tories’ public sector pay cap. The PCS union is expected to give formal notice of the ballot on 11 June and begin balloting on 18 June.

The ballot could lead to national strikes by workers across government departments. But PCS activists will need to fight hard to deliver a strong yes vote and beat the 50 percent turnout threshold.

Workers in government departments have suffered 1 percent increases—well below inflation—for eight years.

Delegates at the PCS’s annual conference last week voted overwhelmingly for a national strike ballot to demand a 5 percent increase.

Moving the motion, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said it was time for the PCS to take action without waiting for other unions to join in.

“We have tried for years to persuade other unions to take action with us and we haven’t been successful,” he said.

“Do we wait for them to change their minds or do we seize the moment now?”

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell pledged support for the workers.

He told the conference, “If you take industrial action we will be with you on every picket line we possibly can.”


The union is set to hold training days for activists in June.

We can’t miss this moment
'We can’t miss this moment', says PCS leader Mark Serwotka
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In a statement it said, “We will now be entering a period of intense activity.

“We aim to achieve not just a long overdue pay rise, but also a stronger, more confident union, rejuvenated by the influx of a wave of new activists.”

Serwotka told Socialist Worker, “Theresa May is treating our people worse than anyone else. We have to get a mandate for action to put pressure on her.

“We have to hold meetings, do leafleting, anything to get the message out. We have to tell members that not voting is the same as a no vote.”

PCS activists at the conference shared ideas about how to get the best result. Many said it’s crucial to involve as many members as possible in the campaign. Others shared lessons from a campaign to win a yes vote in an indicative ballot last year.

Andrea from DVLA Swansea suggested leafletting desks to pick up new members and activists. Pete said a committee of PCS activists in Birmingham had helped them to “locate the offices that need the most support” in getting the vote out.

Sarah from Manchester told the conference how activists there planned “a city-wide pay rally”. And Candy from the National Gallery branch said, “We’ve got to try and unleash the potential.

“We’ve got to involve our members and we have to train up a new layer of activists.”

Serwotka–‘This is about winning, not protesting’

Mark Serwotka told the PCS union’s conference the ballot was about “action that is not about protesting but action that is about winning”.

He said that—following pay debates in at the union’s group conferences—the government’s cabinet office had already written to him asking to discuss the PCS’s pay claim.

This followed weeks of the government ignoring the union.

But he also said he hoped that a strong ballot result could give the union “leverage” in talks. And he told the conference that the union would consult members on striking again if talks fail—and may look to “targeted” action involving only some sections.

Other speakers said action should be sooner, if not immediately after the result.

Phil Dickens from Bootle Taxes branch said, “When PCS has had consultations in the past this can drag out quite a long time with nothing really happening at the end of it.

“We’ve also seen quite a long gap between where we are now and the consultative ballot that’s just gone.

“Members were asking when we’re going to go on strike over pay.”

And Pete Edwards from Department for Transport Wales said, “Members have had enough of pay restraint and want to see a fight from their trade union.

“Let’s smash the thresholds. But I want to go further. If we win the ballot, we need to take action urgently.”

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