Over 90,000 civil service workers in the PCS union working in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were to strike on Thursday and Friday of this week. They are protesting against New Labour’s plans to cut 30,000 jobs in the DWP.
The cuts are having a devastating effect on services. A leaked document has revealed that the government wants to move a number of DWP jobs offshore as part of its neo-liberal drive.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS, spoke to Socialist Worker about the strike.
We have a leaked government document which shows it has a detailed plan.
The first paragraph reads, “In line with the continuing need for government departments to reduce costs, proposals are being made by service providers (private firms bidding for government work) to undertake work for or on behalf of the department overseas.
“This could involve the transfer of part or even all of the functions of a DWP area of business that would have previously been located in the UK, to a centre located outside of the UK. This is referred to as offshoring.”
It is clear from this that there are no no-go areas for the government in slashing jobs. This is in line with work and pensions secretary John Hutton’s recent statements about using more voluntary and private sector companies in the benefit system.
To achieve these cuts the government is prepared to embrace privatisation and the dash to the bottom which is offshoring – relocating work to areas of the world that pay sometimes a fifth of wages in Britain.
In this context the strike in the DWP this week is very significant. We have always seen it as being in defence of services and jobs.
But after the events of the last week it could be the opening exchanges in a battle to defend public service employment against a government hell-bent on offshoring and bringing in private sector involvement.
We certainly expect the strike to be very solid. People realise that the stakes are very high. The members taking industrial action this week have probably come out on strike as much as, or more than, anyone in the trade union movement in the last few years.
They are continuing to defend themselves over jobs and pay.
If they don’t make a stand, the jobs will go and those left will be working in an organisation unprepared to provide decent services to people.
The cuts imposed so far have had a terrible effect on services. We have looked at the effects over the last six months and it is astonishing.
Chancellor Gordon Brown has said they are efficiency cuts that will have little effect on frontline services.
But you can’t get any more frontline than providing services to the sick, the unemployed, the disabled and the old – the most vulnerable people. And their services have been hit.
In the last six months there have been one million unanswered calls to the DWP. There have been reports that initial claims for benefits are taking eight weeks, when they used to take ten days.
Last week in west London 282 crisis loans were outstanding. People who applied for interviews before Christmas, which you need to have before you get any benefits, were not getting appointments until the third week of January.
The Salvation Army has had to prepare food parcels for some people in the north because they aren’t getting their benefits.
There has been a 62 percent rise in violent attacks in offices as people’s frustration grows.
Workers have had to abandon computer systems, which are in chaos.
This is part of a flawed delivery system – local access to services have been removed from the community. In any system there must be the ability to turn-up and be seen in local offices.
I could go on and on about these problems.
We will be saying to all service users and groups that this is a strike to defend their services. The trade union movement should know that this is a Labour government cutting jobs and presiding over plans to bring in offshoring.
If we fight and win, keeping jobs in the public sector has got to be in everyone’s interests.
The government’s plans won’t stop with us.
My message to PCS members taking action is that I know taking strike action is not easy. It is an act of last resort. The goal is a secure job, free from stress, providing good services.
If we stick together we can have success.