It was a day of struggle for members of the PCS union in London on Wednesday, as workers in two government departments struck together.
Catering workers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) finished off a three-day strike over pay. And workers at a tax office in Ealing, west London, began their own three-day strike to save jobs.
The catering workers at BEIS’s central London office in Westminster are fighting to be paid the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour. Currently they are paid just £9.01 an hour.
One striker, Maria, told Socialist Worker, “London life is very expensive—we need more money. Our bills go up every year and what we get here is not enough to cover what we have to pay.
“I’ve been working here 21 years this month—and in at least nine or ten years I never had a pay rise.”
Bosses at outsourcer Aramark say they can’t afford to pay workers the London Living Wage. But strikers don’t believe them.
One, Ana, said, “They just find excuse after excuse. They tell us they don’t know what’s going to happen with Brexit. But Brexit or no Brexit, the service will still run. We still run hospitality, we’re still serving food in the canteen. For them we are just numbers—we’re not people.”
Ana said bosses have attacked their conditions too. “They don’t treat us with dignity,” she said. “They tried to cut our lunch time. They don’t give us more than 20 working days holiday. They don’t give us sick pay. If we have a doctors’ appointment they always ask us to change the date to be convenient for them and not convenient for us.
“They should show some respect for the people who labour, for the people who work for them. We are here to make them money and that’s it.”
Strikers are determined. One worker told Socialist Worker she joined the PCS so she could take part in the strike. And Maria said, “I’m 51 years old and I never went on strike before. I never understood why people went on strike before—but now I understand why.”
The action has already forced Aramark bosses to increase workers’ pay from the meagre £7.38 an hour that it was earlier this year. But Ana said workers won’t give in until they get the London Living Wage.
She said bosses are trying to shut workers up “thinking we’ll be happy with £9.01”.
“I’m not happy, and none of my colleagues are,” she said. “If nothing happens, we are going forward for longer. We are all here together until the end.”
The final day of the catering strike came as workers at an HMRC tax office in Ealing began the first day of theirs.
Strikers there are fighting to stop the closure of their office, which could cause more than 100 job losses. Workers would have to commute up to three hours a day to a new office in east London—or be made redundant.
They struck for two half days earlier this year, and a full day last week. One striker told Socialist Worker, “We’re still solid. A lot of people are supporting the cause.”
But she added that bosses have so far refused to back down. They have only offered workers the chance to work from home more often. But that still leaves them with a long commuting days—and west London with no tax office.
The workers will have to escalate to harder-hitting action to win.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told a strike rally that bosses were trying to demoralise workers. “The other side will always wait to see if the union blinks, if the members blink,” he said. “We have to tell them that’s not happening here.”
Serwotka encouraged strikers to keep going. He announced that another tax office in Wolverhampton would soon start a strike ballot against the closure of their office—and said he hoped there would be united action.
Serwotka also told both sets of strikers that the union would keep backing them, and is preparing a fundraising drive to make sure they have strike pay.
And—as PCS members across the country ballot for national strikes over pay—he told BEIS strikers, “If you win here, you’re going to show that if you stand together you can make a difference.”