OVER 100,000 low paid civil servants in the PCS union are debating the next step in their pay battle. Quick and determined action is needed to win this crucial battle with the government. Some 92,000 workers struck brilliantly in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on Monday and Tuesday of last week. A number of other departments have also struck recently.
The scale of the strike in the DWP and the disruption it caused to benefit offices, job centres and pension centres across the country shocked New Labour and management. Civil servants are now working to rule in an effort to cause the maximum possible disruption to management.
Many activists are worried about the big gap between last week's strikes and the meetings organised to discuss the next action. The group executive committee that runs the PCS union in the DWP is meeting early next week. A meeting of representatives from all DWP branches will take place in Leeds on Saturday 6 March.
The group executive has to call more hard-hitting strikes to increase the pressure on New Labour. It cannot afford to lose the momentum and the great feeling seen in last week's strikes.
Dave Owens, a DWP worker in Liverpool, told Socialist Worker, 'The action was absolutely tremendous here and the mood hasn't gone away. The day after the strike workers at a Jobcentre Plus office refused to go to other offices on a training course. On Thursday management took the e-mail facilities off Jim Dye, the PCS regional organiser. Some 200 people at the pensions centre where he works walked out unofficially in support of him for the rest of the day. At the Child Support Agency national enquiry line people refused to use their desks because they hadn't been risk assessed for health and safety. The question is, where do we go from here? Disruptive action will keep things going in most offices, but it will be difficult if more action is not called. The meeting for DWP branch representatives has got to call for more determined strike action. Ultimately the only thing that can guarantee a win is an all-out strike. Management are banking on us running out of steam. The anger is still there but we need to get the strategy right.'
A west London civil servant says, 'The Gershon report last week showed the government's plans to slash jobs in the civil service. That is all part and parcel of our dispute. 'We need escalating action, quickly, to show we are not going backwards.'
Rob Bryson, a job centre worker in central London, says, 'Now the members have got a taste of the action they want a lot more. The mood on my picket line was buoyant. 'People in my office want to go for an all-out strike. They believe that management can ride out two-day strikes. 'At the very least the group executive should call a programme of action over a few weeks. We have to terrify management.'
Paul Murphy, a north London DWP worker, says, 'There are a number of other departments in dispute who haven't settled yet. We will need coordinated action with all the departments to bash down the door of the Treasury.'
Other departments, such as the Prisons Service, the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs, were also discussing the next stage of their action. Administrative workers in the Driving Standards Agency, where there was also a solid strike on Monday and Tuesday of last week, were set to strike in Birmingham, Edinburgh and London on Friday of this week.