Socialist Worker

Biggest strike in 20 years

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1889

'PEOPLE ARE raging,' says civil servant Margaret Rose Garrity from Glasgow. 'They want more action. We want to bring management to its knees.' She summed up the spirit of the strike against poverty pay by 90,000 civil servants on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

'There is a lot of anger. People are very up,' says Phil Pardoe. Phil is a central London civil servant and on the PCS union executive for the biggest group of those out -in the Department for Work and Pensions. Driving Standards Agency workers also joined the action which hit job centres, benefits offices, pension centres, the Child Support Agency and driving test centres.

'I have never known such a well-supported strike,' says Dave Owens from Liverpool. Martin John from Sheffield summed up the mood: 'The strike has released a big gush of anger. People have been buoyed up by the success of the strikes.' 'The strikes in the Driving Standards Agency were brilliant,' says Lorraine Harding in Nottingham. 'It was far in excess of what we'd expected.' The union is in a major battle with the government.

Civil servants are fed up with poverty pay, which sees many workers having to rely on the very benefits they administer to make ends meet. Brian, a PCS rep in south London, told Socialist Worker, 'We are the worst paid department in the civil service. People are on £11,000 to £12,000 a year.'

Sue Catten, from the City benefits office in east London, told Socialist Worker, 'If we don't strike now over this appalling pay offer, we might as well go home and give up.'

The success of the strikes shocked New Labour and shows workers can win. This has to be built on. The union leadership cannot afford to back down in the face of government attacks, as the firefighters' union leaders did in their dispute last year. The action needs to be escalated quickly.

There is a mood for that on the ground. 'We need more strikes to get anywhere,' says Margaret Rose Garrity. 'This is our moment to strike,' agreed Sue Catten. The PCS union group executive called off strikes originally planned for the end of January, but was forced to call action this week because of pressure from members.

Now there can be no more hesitations and delays. The union executive must match the mood shown in this week's strikes. Phil Pardoe, one of the executive members who opposed calling off the previous strikes, says, 'The group executive committee ought to call more action in advance of the Saturday 6 March meeting of all DWP branch secretaries. 'The general strategy has to be decided among members there.'

Fight on jobs too

A leaked government report in the Financial Times on Monday of this week shows New Labour could slash 80,000 civil service jobs over the next three years. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka says, 'On the day when tens of thousands of civil servants are striking for a fair pay deal this comes as a real kick in the teeth. This is an extraordinary attack. Any job losses on this scale are completely unacceptable.'

As north London DWP worker Paul Murphy told Socialist Worker, 'Politicians always say they're going to cut waste, but there's no waste to cut. New Labour is already planning to cut 30,000 jobs. We're struggling to get by as it is.'

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Article information

Sat 21 Feb 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1889
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