OVER 100,000 civil servants are set to strike on Tuesday and Wednesday. The workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the prisons service and the Office for National Statistics are fighting for decent pay. This is a crucial battle for the future of public services and the PCS civil servants' union. The government is out to break the PCS.
The Guardian newspaper revealed a leaked DWP internal report on Monday of this week. This showed that bosses have been secretly plotting to marginalise the PCS in pay negotiations. The document, which was copied to the private office of New Labour work and pensions minister Andrew Smith, describes a pay 'vision' for 2005 which would exclude the union by extending performance related pay.
The report claims that some of the savings made by performance related pay could be 'reinvested in improved bonus pools, which was a contributory factor in reducing the union's grip on pay decision-making'. Mark Serwotka, the left wing PCS general secretary, says, 'We now know why management have been so intransigent over pay and performance systems and employed the arrogant high-handed tactics of simply imposing it on staff. 'For them the performance system is about undermining staff's ability to negotiate collectively, weakening their voice on pay and conditions.'
This comes on top of the DWP last week imposing the second part of a pay deal overwhelmingly rejected by workers. Gordon Brown recently announced during his budget speech that he would axe 40,000 jobs in the civil service, 30,000 of them in the DWP.
The strikes in the DWP involve over 90,000 low paid workers in job centres, benefits offices, pensions centres and the Child Support Agency. They struck solidly in February, shocking bosses and New Labour. Despite the long gap between strikes there is still huge anger among DWP staff about low pay and treatment by bosses and New Labour.
Union activists are determined to make the strike as solid as possible to shake their bosses. Phil Pardoe, a central London civil servant, says, 'The mood hasn't gone away. I think this strike will be as well supported as the last one. We've seen the announcement about the job cuts, the arrogance of management bullying people, the pathetic nature of the revised offer, all since the last strike. There is a mood of anger and contempt for the employer. The leaked document really emphasises the point that we are fighting about more than pay in the DWP.'
Kate Douglas, a civil servant in Oxfordshire, says, 'The strike is going to be well supported. Management are being worse than they ever have been before. Morale among staff is rock bottom.'
We need a strategy to win
PCS ACTIVISTS are concerned about the strategy the group executive committee that runs the union in the DWP is taking in the dispute. Many feel that a more serious programme of escalated action is needed to win.
Paula Walsh, an Exeter civil servant who is a member of the group executive committee, told Socialist Worker, 'We need to ensure this strike is as strong as possible, but if we are going to have a good result we have to up the ante. 'I have called for an emergency group executive committee meeting to discuss the dispute immediately after next week's strikes. We have to get a better strategy to win.'
Phil Pardoe, who is also on the group executive, says, 'To date the group executive haven't put together any strategy to win. We can't just have a series of two-day strikes every two months.'
Kate Douglas says, 'The group executive needs to realise the seriousness of this fight. It's not just about pay. It's about the future of the union. If we don't win this we can kiss goodbye to those 30,000 jobs.'
Robert Bryson, a central London civil servant, says, 'The leadership needs to call a serious programme of industrial action so members can see when they're going on strike. Calling strikes two months apart is no way to win this dispute. 'Members are prepared to take much more serious action.'
THE LEAKED internal document shows that even the bosses recognise the poverty pay their workers are on. It says, 'A significant proportion of DWP staff are on salaries of £15,000 per year and many earn considerably less than this.
'Modernising our pay arrangement will require significant structural change and we expect to have to overcome considerable union resistance.'