The PCS civil service workers’ union conference in Brighton saw delegates vote to confront New Labour over job losses and national pay.
The union is preparing to ballot for national action involving its 300,000 members if the government does not guarantee there will be no compulsory redundancies across the civil service.
This is part of its strategy to defend members’ jobs and public services, which are both under attack as the government wants to cut 100,000 jobs.
Civil service workers are angry about the attacks they are facing. The PCS is in dispute with management in a number of departments including the Driving Standards Agency, the NHS Pensions Agency, the ministry of defence and the Office of National Statistics.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, told the conference, “The job cuts announced by Gordon Brown have led to a catastrophic reduction in the delivery of services.
“Maybe now is the time to go on the offensive and make sure we are not waiting for the first compulsory redundancy before we take national action.
“We should go out to members and campaign for national action if we don’t get a guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies.”
There were votes for action at the conference over the poverty pay civil service workers face.
Delegate Julie Bremner said, “This Labour government listens to the bosses’ CBI organisation rather than its own workers. Gordon Brown is talking about a 2 percent pay freeze for public sector workers.
“The government has saved £6.5 billion on its administrative efficiency agenda. That should be going into frontline services, not frontline soldiers. We need national action and leadership over pay.”
Emma Boyd from Defra London said, “There is a need for a national campaign to take us forward. The government has declared war on us.
“Trade unionists in France fought and won against the neo-liberal agenda this year. There is no reason we can’t as well.”
One of the most important debates at the conference took place over pensions. A number of delegates were worried that the union had made a concession too far when, along with other unions, it accepted a deal with the government last year.
This would mean that new starters in the civil service would be on a worse pension than current workers – whose retirement age would stay the same.
The majority of delegates supported the deal, arguing that it was a significant achievement. But even the people who spoke in favour of this position distanced themselves from the motion’s claim that “PCS members understandably view this achievement as a tremendous victory”.
Anna Owens from HMRC London said, “The reason there is opposition to this is that the pensions deal was a compromise.
“The government could not stomach a fight with the unions and was forced back. But if the union had forced its advantage, much more could have been won.
“If we don’t fight to defend the pensions of future civil servants why should they fight for ours?”
Motions were also overwhelmingly passed supporting the union’s fight against the Nazi BNP, opposing any attack on Iran and opposing the growth of Islamophobia.
Delegates flocked to the many fringe meetings.
Some 170 people attended a Respect meeting. They heard Respect MP George Galloway, Mark Serwotka, Respect national secretary John Rees and Respect councillor Rania Khan.
Around 200 people heard Tony Benn speak at a Stop the War Coalition meeting.
Members of the PCS in the Department for Work and Pensions voted at the group conference to call another two- day strike before the end of July if no significant concessions are made over job cuts.
This will follow the two rounds of two-day strikes taken by around 90,000 people in January and March.
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