Socialist Worker

Magistrate’s courts see first strike in 800 years

by Matthew Cookson and Des Mannay
Issue No. 1982

On the picket line in Manchester (Pic: Geoff Brown)

On the picket line in Manchester (Pic: Geoff Brown)

Thousands of members of the PCS and Prospect civil service workers’ unions working in magistrate’s courts across England and Wales, held a national strike on 20 December.

It was the first strike in the 800 year history of the ­magistrate’s courts.

The one-day stoppage was held in opposition to a below inflation pay increase of 2.2 percent. Magistrate’s courts across the country closed, including two thirds of those in London, a number in Yorkshire, Wales and the south west of England.

Justices’ clerks, bench legal managers and assistant justices’ clerks in the Prospect union joined ushers, legal clerks and administrative workers in the PCS on strike.

Cardiff PCS branch chair Richard Northam told Socialist Worker, “The courts are closed in Merthyr and Pontypridd. It’s been an excellent turn out for the Glamorgan branch of the PCS.

“Only eight members of staff crossed the picket line — and they’re non-union. More than half of court staff earn less than £15,000 a year.”

He also reported that union membership had grown in the run up to the strike.

A married couple made a point of apologising to the pickets in Cardiff as they had to go into the court to visit their son in the cells. “We’ve never crossed a picket line in our lives,” they said.

Canteen staff donated hot drinks to the pickets.

Striker Mike Hallinan, addressing fellow pickets, said, “This struggle could go on for a while, but we will win because we have a just cause.”

Rosie Eagleson, PCS national secretary, said, “For six months senior management have sought to drag the issue out and refused to negotiate meaningfully over pay.

“Staff have shown that they will not sit back and allow their pay to be devalued and it is now time for management to seriously negotiate on pay to avoid further industrial action.”

Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, said, “Those on strike have shown great courage to take part in their first ever national walkout.

“Low pay is a major problem in the courts. It is high time that the hard work of those staff who ensure the smooth running of an integral part of the justice system are recognised with decent pay.”

The workers are now carrying out a work to rule. The dispute over low pay could also spill over into the crown and county courts.

Dave Vincent, the branch secretary of the Greater Manchester PCS crown and county courts branch, told Socialist Worker, “Workers in the crown and county courts also have issues over pay.

“The union group executive in Her Majesty’s Court Service is set to meet next week to discuss the strike in the magistrate’s courts and the pay offer in the crown and county courts.

“There have been a number of workplace meetings to discuss the pay and feed members’ feelings back to the group executive.

“The mood of members in the meetings I have done is not to settle and to look at what happens in the magistrate’s courts. If we have to take action people want to take it with colleagues in other sections.”

The national ballot of over 90,000 PCS members in the Department for Work and Pensions was to close on Friday of this week.

The workers are balloting for strike action over job cuts, office closures and other issues.

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Article information

Sat 7 Jan 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1982
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