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A growing mood for rebellion

This article is over 18 years, 2 months old
The civil servants' PCS union is stepping up its campaign for national rates of pay and decent pensions. It has called rallies and campaign meetings across the country. Sue Bond, national vice-president of the PCS, gives her personal view of the growi
Issue 1876

THERE IS a stereotype of civil servants which says they are well paid, wear bowler hats and carry briefcases. The reality is rather different. Today the civil service employs huge swathes of low paid workers doing essential work-finding jobs for people, delivering benefits, advising on consumer and workplace rights, running museums and art galleries, making sure roads are safe and drivers tested and licensed, and working in ports and airports.

It is work that may not always be seen, but without which society would grind to a halt.

The people doing these jobs are some of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. The real wage for police officers has risen by 10 percent since 1992. Civil servants have seen their real wages increase by just 3.5 percent. Ten years ago the government broke up our national pay bargaining agreement.

The Labour Party promised to reinstate it but reneged on their promise. There are over 170 different pay deals being negotiated by different groups of civil servants.

One result of the localisation of pay negotiations is an increasing pay gap between different departments-up to 30 percent. Although there are widely differing deals, in reality they are all agreed by the Treasury. And at the moment the Treasury is clamping down on pay.

So the union will be campaigning to reintroduce national pay bargaining. We are balloting members at the end of November to get their backing for this campaign. There are also a number of big government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the National Archive where there are likely to be disputes over pay.

The PCS want to coordinate these pay battles nationally. The Treasury also insists that pay is performance related. Even the Cabinet Office’s own research shows that this is discriminatory, because it is based on subjective judgements carried out by managers.

There is also growing anger over government attacks on pension rights. They want to make all public sector workers work until they are 65 years old. Until now you could retire at 60 and still get a full pension. We will argue for a TUC demonstration over pensions as soon as possible, and a day of action for all public sector workers.

We are organising rallies in all areas of the country to discuss these issues and to prepare for the ballot over national pay bargaining.

THE SERIES of rallies organised by the PCS union got off to a tremendous start when up to 800 members attended a meeting in central London on Monday lunchtime. The turnout showed how angry civil servants are about low pay and attacks on pensions. They are gearing up for a challenge to the government over these issues.

Janice Godrich, PCS president, told the meeting, ‘This meeting is the first in a series of more than 30 taking place across the UK this week over pay and pensions. ‘We want to rebuild a strong national union.’

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said, ‘This magnificent turnout demonstrates the national union’s commitment that it has had enough of unequal and low pay, and attacks on pensions.

‘Our members at the Department of Work and Pensions [DWP], the Home Office, the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the Archive Offices are going to be balloting to reject their pay offers. Our members are not going to stand alone. The union will coordinate the campaign so members in all departments will march together. If all else fails we will have to show the government that members have had enough by using industrial action. We are the fastest growing union, with approaching 300,000 members. This turnout today means that we mean business. My pledge is that the union will leave no stone unturned to put right these injustices. Our members deserve a fair deal. We are determined to get it for them.’

A postal worker was cheered and applauded when he told the meeting how the unofficial strike in the post had driven bosses back. Oli Rahman, a PCS member in east London, told Socialist Worker, ‘The mood is the same everywhere. The members are angry. In the DWP our ballot over our pay deal has begun. This is the worst offer we have ever had. It is an absolute disgrace. I hope we have a massive turnout in the ballot. If they don’t listen to us we will have to have industrial action.’

Sarah Logue travelled up from Lewes in Sussex for the meeting. She said, ‘Low pay is the biggest issue for members in my office. We have to make our voices heard.’

PCS members in a number of departments are set to ballot about their unacceptable pay deals over the next few weeks. If they reject them it could see a major confrontation with the government involving over 100,000 PCS members.

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