By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2847

Five weeks of passport strikes + Norfolk rebellion

This article is over 1 years, 2 months old
Calling out the whole civil service would be an even bigger escalation that could force the government to budge.
Issue 2847
Six PCS union pickets at DCMS with red placards saying "official picket"

PCS union members struck on 15 March. Now come passport strikes (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Workers in the Passport Office are set to strike for five weeks from next month in what union leaders call an escalation of its fight over pay, jobs and pensions.

PCS union members in Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Glasgow are all set to join the action.

The union said the strike would be “likely to have a significant impact on the delivery of passports as the summer approaches.”

Workers across the civil service have been fighting after government bosses offered them a pay increase of just 2 percent.

Their strikes have been organised around a plan of rolling, targeted action, with different groups of workers striking at different times.

PCS union leaders say this is designed to cause maximum disruption while minimising the loss in pay.

Strikes have been solidly supported, with enthusiasm among union activists especially on two days of civil service-wide strikes. Yet the action hasn’t been enough to force government bosses to even offer talks.

As PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “In sharp contrast with other parts of the public sector, ministers have failed to hold any meaningful talks with us, despite two massive strikes and sustained, targeted action lasting six months.”

Union leaders hope the five-week Passport Offices strike—from 3 April to 5 May—will increase the pressure to talk. But the 1,000 people it would involve are just a small fraction of the more than 130,000 who have voted to strike.

Some 100,000 of those first voted for strikes in November of last year. But since then, most of them have struck for just two days.

They have now begun voting again to renew their six-month mandate under anti‑strike laws. And some groups of workers in Northern Ireland have already had to vote twice as anti-strike laws there say a strike mandate runs out after four weeks if union leaders don’t call action.

A strike across the whole civil service last Wednesday showed widespread enthusiasm for fighting—drawing newer, younger workers into the union.

Building on that, with more, longer, all-civil service strikes, would be an even bigger escalation that could force the government to budge.

Pay fight in Norfolk takes on the outsourcer Serco

Bin workers, grounds maintenance and street and toilet cleaners in North Norfolk and Breckland were on strike for all of last week,

The Unison members are fighting outsourcer Serco over pay. One striker’s placard read, “Toilet cleaners’ pay is not worth the paper it’s wiped on.”

Last month, 99 percent of workers backed strikes over the multimillion-pound firm’s refusal to make a pay offer that keeps track with the cost of living.

The vote forced Serco to “tweak” its offer, but workers have now decided that the change would not be enough.

Workers are demanding rises that would take their wages to between £12 and £14.50 an hour—still a low figure.

Cameron Matthews, Unison’s eastern regional organiser, who was on the picket line at Aylsham, said Serco had made a “terrible” offer.

Matthews said the group of around 100 workers was getting “lots of support” from passing motorists on the main road near Serco’s depot.

Phil Hammond, a shop steward, said he did not want to go on strike but had “no option”. “The cost of fuel, the cost of living, food, a lot of us can’t afford to have the heating on at home,” he added. “We’ve had enough.

Toilet cleaner Terry Money, who described his minimum wage pay of £9.50 an hour as “peanuts”, said he was prepared to walk out for six weeks if that was necessary.

  • Sign the petition to support the strike here

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance