By Nick Clark
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Five week strike could be passport to bigger civil service fight

This article is over 1 years, 1 months old
Strikers in the Passport Office say they hope their walkout will put more pressure on the government over pay
Issue 2849
A group of 14 Passport Office strikers, some in green high viz tabards, stand with a banner that says PCS on strike

Passport Office workers in east London launch their strike (Picture: Alan Kenny)

Workers in the Passport Office began a five-week strike from Monday of this week. It marked a new stage in a long-running battle over civil service pay, jobs and pensions.

The PCS union says the strike is an escalation in its programme of rolling, targeted action sweeping different government departments. Workers have struck in a number of government offices since December last year—and there have been two days of strikes across the whole civil service this year.

But government bosses had so far refused to even meet PCS union leaders for talks, and haven’t budged from a pay offer of just a 2 percent increase. Now, union leaders and workers hope the Passport Office strike will tip the balance.

Zac, a striking PCS branch secretary at the Passport Office in east London, told Socialist Worker, “It’s unprecedented in the Passport Office and in the PCS to be doing action like this.

“It’s an opportunity to get the point across. We hope it puts more pressure on the government because they haven’t talked to us. They’ve not negotiated with the PCS leadership during this strike campaign.”

The government’s offer of a 2 percent increase—well below inflation—is a huge real terms pay cut. It follows more than a decade of similar below-inflation rises and pay freezes that have left many workers in the civil service struggling.

Zac said that had encouraged many strikers to take action for the first time. “I don’t think the PCS has been on strike for several years,” he said. “That demonstrates the strength of feeling.

“With inflation the way that it is, a lot of people were really shocked at the offer. People sometimes think civil servants are very well paid. But we have a crisis of in-work poverty in the civil service at the moment.”

There were some big picket lines on the first day of the strike. Dave Owens, a PCS member in Merseyside, said there were 81 people at the picket line in Liverpool.

“It’s excellent,” he told Socialist Worker. “Managers have come out and complained that there were too many people and they were blocking the steps. The branch secretary said everyone should move, and then everyone stayed exactly where they are.”

Workers at the British Museum, British Library, Animal and Plant Health Agency and Government Digital Services were also set to strike this month as part of the targeted action.

The support for the strikes shows enthusiasm for stepping up the action—especially after the two national days of strikes. They could escalate further—and put more pressure on the government—with more and longer periods of striking all together.

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