The executive of a key section of the PCS civil servants' union last week called off planned strikes over pay. Pressure was building from members this week for the strikes to be put back on
SHOCK AND anger swept through the PCS civil servants' union last week when union leaders suspended a strike that would have hit job centres, benefits offices and pension centres. The union had been building up to coordinated action in five government departments involving around 110,000 members against poverty pay. But the group executive committee that runs the union in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided to suspend their action to go into new talks with management.
This meant that over 90,000 people were pulled out of the strike. The government had been worried by the prospect of a major civil servants' strike. Rather than increasing the pressure on New Labour and the bosses, the Socialist Party, which dominates the group executive, chose to go into talks.
This was a wasted opportunity. Over 100,000 civil servants on strike last week would have ratcheted up the heat on Tony Blair as the furore over the Hutton report whitewash and the fees vote exploded. The talks revolve around a little more pay and the hated appraisal system, which links pay to performance.
Some 20,000 people still struck determinedly in the courts, prison service, Home Office and among Treasury solicitors on Thursday and Friday of last week. Workers in the Department for Work and Pensions are angry with the group executive, and there has been a storm of protest from members. Dave Owens works in an Employment Direct call centre in Liverpool and is the union's DWP regional secretary for the north west of England.
Dave says, 'People were furious when they heard the strike had been called off. We had a union meeting at my workplace last Thursday. Around 70 people came. A group executive member came to explain its decision. He was lucky to get away intact. We unanimously passed a motion against the decision. Lots of branches have been passing similar motions. It was a real mistake to call off the action.'
Martin John, a Sheffield civil servant and member of the PCS national executive, told Socialist Worker, 'Workplace meetings in Sheffield in local offices showed that the members were frustrated and angry. Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, does not sit on the DWP group executive and played no part in them calling off the strikes. He has received loads of e-mails and faxes criticising that executive's decision. The group executive is under pressure. There is a members' revolt over this issue. It's not over yet.'
Phil Pardoe, a central London civil servant and a member of the DWP group executive, voted against the strikes being suspended. He says, 'I have been getting reports from all over the country from members who think this decision was wrong. The group executive is out of touch with the members. I was horrified with the decision of the majority on the group executive. Members have to keep up the pressure-hold meetings, send e-mail motions to the group executive and copy the letter to Mark Serwotka.' Members' pressure could force the group executive to call new strikes in the near future.
'This is our first time out on strike'
AROUND 20,000 civil servants did strike across the country on Thursday and Friday of last week, bringing severe disruption to courts, prisons, the Treasury solicitor's department and the Home Office. They were determined to keep up their action, even though they were disappointed, and in many cases angry, that their colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions were not out.
The Old Bailey court in London was closed down and most trials in Liverpool were cancelled. Sue Bond, PCS vice-president, says, 'The action in Manchester was brilliant. I wasn't on strike but I took annual leave to go to the picket lines. Almost everywhere was solid.'
Denise Simpson, a PCS member picketing the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, told Socialist Worker, 'We're a bunch of women in our 50s. This is our first time on strike. It's time for everyday people to make a stand.'
John Outram, a striker outside the Home Office in central London, said, 'Pay is the big issue. It is not acceptable to take pay rises below the rate of inflation.'