The PCS union believes Tory transport secretary Grant Shapps has intervened directly to scupper an agreement on working from home.
Workers in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) are in a long-running battle to demand that more of them be allowed to work from home. More than 1,000 workers at the DVLA offices in Swansea have been forced into unsafe conditions, and some 600 of them have caught Covid-19.
The PCS says a deal—reached with the civil servant in charge of the Department for Transport—was all but agreed. But bosses backed out of it suddenly on Tuesday without explanation, leaving the PCS to suspect that Tory ministers had intervened.
Some 500 workers at an angry meeting that night agreed to push ahead with planned strike starting on Wednesday.
Mac, a PCS rep at the Swansea office, told Socialist Worker, “It is all too obvious this has come from the top echelons of the Department for Transport. It’s probably Grant Shapps himself and other senior Tories.
“A deal was possible, but all these Tory Oxbridge boys at the top have obviously pulled the rug from under management.”
He added, “They’d put a deal on the table and all signs were that they did this to get us to cancel the strikes and cause chaos. They’re treating us with contempt. Now it’s about honour as well, and showing to them that we are more determined than ever to win this dispute.
“I’ve just come back from a picket line. The strike seemed very successful. A couple of cars turned around when they realised there was a strike on as it was quite short notice.”
DVLA management’s sudden move comes as the Tory government tries to drive through an end to lockdown and a full reopening of workplaces.
The deal included a review of home working and a bonus payment for all workers, as well as time off for those made to work on site throughout the pandemic.
Yet bosses at other government departments want to drive their staff back to work. They are demanding that job centre workers carry out more face to face interviews with benefits claimants.
It’s part of the Tories’ plan to get the economy “back to normal” so bosses can keep making money—despite warnings of a third coronavirus wave.
That makes the DVLA strike a battle that every worker should get behind.
Mac said, “This is political. It’s because of the Tory government’s opposition to the trade unions that this has come about.
“They don’t want to set a precedent. If there’s going to be a victory at the DVLA, it’s going to encourage workers throughout Britain—it will be a massive example to them. And that's the last thing they want.”
This week’s strike is set to end on Saturday, and to be followed by five more days from Monday next week. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the union is “prepared for months” of strikes.
But strikers will need support from across the trade union movement.
Mac said, “Any messages of support from trade union branches is immense, as well as financial donations to our strike fund. Actual support on the picket lines would be amazing in Swansea, we are picketing the Llansamlet contact centre this week and potentially next week.
“Whatever kind of support you can bring – tea or coffee—anything you can think of.”