After six months of strikes, civil service workers debated how to win a pay rise at the PCS union’s annual conference in Brighton on Tuesday. They have staged a series of departmental walkouts and three national strikes—and many now want to escalate the action.
At a fringe meeting the day before the debate on pay, VAT worker Tom argued, “For us to win, we have to escalate.
“I’m 34 and I’m sick and tired of living on the poverty line. The problem is we have targeted action. The NEU union doesn’t say, ‘Let’s take the primary schools out on strike but keep the secondary schools going’.
Angela Grant from the national executive committee (NEC) defending the focus on targeting action. This has seen PCS members in departments not on strike pay a levy of £3 or £5 to those who are out. “The levy is supporting targeted action, it is paying for others to go out on strike on our behalf,” she said.
She said “some members are ready to do” one “day of national unpaid action some”, but “others say they will leave the union if it happens”.
Delegates voted for the NEC’s motion. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said it argues for “further national strikes and targeted action, the question is where that balance lies”. “We have many members telling us they want to win, but they can’t take ten or 20 days of strikes,” he said. “What we know is if we stick together, we can win.”
About a third of delegates voted against, wanting a break from the strategy of targeting action with sporadic national strikes. An alternative motion argued for a minimum of three days of national action a month.
Department for Work and Pensions worker Pete told Socialist Worker a “significant minority are arguing for escalation”. He said the vote reflects the mood in workplaces adding, “Delegates recognise that the pay fight isn’t easy.” “We should continue insisting on more national strikes,” he added. “Targeted action is not enough.”
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