ACTIVISTS IN the PCS civil servants' union who work in job centres and benefits offices are gearing up for their next major strike for safety at the end of this month. Around 40,000 civil servants struck in December against the removal of safety screens.
Many workers are angry that the union group executives delayed calling the next strike until Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 January. The delay lets New Labour off the hook at a crucial stage in the dispute and gives management a green light to attempt to seriously weaken the PCS. Nevertheless activists are planning to use the run-up to the strike to build the most successful action possible.
'There was a meeting of London branch secretaries on Friday of last week to plan ahead to ensure the next strike is successful,' said a London branch secretary. 'We are going to be organising meetings in every office, especially the offices that were weak during the last strike. The strategy of the group executives was lambasted by everybody there. 'You wait a month and a half until you call further action,' people were saying. They've got no strategic thinking. How do they think we'll win? There was a growing realisation amongst people that for the government this dispute is no longer about screens. Some activists were also beginning to argue that to win we have to start raising the idea of an all-out strike.'
The strike in mid-December exposed the weakness in the union. Many workers in job centres crossed picket lines. They felt that the dispute was not theirs, because they have never had to work in screened offices due to the nature of their work.
The way to win over job centre workers is to widen the dispute's aims to include stopping privatisation, fighting for better pay and defending the union. The union is also to organise a ballot for an overtime ban, which would especially hit the benefits offices.
Activists have also called protests in solidarity with the around 600 Pathfinder workers still on all-out strike. The first one is at Winchester office on Wednesday 16 January at 7.30am (beside Winchester station). The second is at the Streatham office on Monday 21 January at 7.30am (near Streatham station).