Civil service workers across Britain struck solidly today against New Labour’s plans to slash 104,000 jobs. They are also angry about privatisation and unfair pay.
The PCS union’s action closed or severely affected the running of benefit offices, job centres, tax offices, museums and galleries, and numerous other government departments.
Here is a selection of reports sent in by strikers and their supporters from around the country. This page will be updated throughout today – if you have a report or a picture, email it to [email protected]
See also » Pictures from PCS picket lines
Background » Into battle for public services
London: British Library | London: Central London rally | London: Croydon | London: Euston Tower | London: museums and galleries | Birmingham | Brighton & Hove | Folkestone, Kent | Liverpool | Manchester | Nottingham | Oxfordshire | Passport offices | Scotland: Glasgow | Scotland: Leith | Scotland: Kirkcaldy | Scotland: Scottish Executive | Wales: Cardiff and Newport | Wales: Swansea
There was a lively picket line outside the British Library in central London. The strike closed the library’s reading rooms.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, visited the picket line, as did Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT teachers’ union and Christine Blower, the NUT’s deputy general secretary.
Val Pearman, branch secretary of the PCS British Library branch, said, ‘Staff are very concerned about the 7 percent cuts proposed in the recent comprehensive spending review.
‘These might necessitate charging readers, closing galleries, reduction opening hours and possible privatisation of services.
‘This isn’t the first time that charging for readers has been proposed. A vigorous campaign in the 1990s stopped it then – that campaign will have to be revived.
‘This makes the dispute relevant to all workers at the British Library. We have suffered since 2004 with compulsory redundancies and the restructuring of work areas. All this has been done in the interests of ‘saving money’.
‘When I arrived on the picket line I was confronted by two agency security staff and six members of the human resources team, who were there to ‘police’ the picket line. But that didn’t stop us picketing.’
Hundreds of PCS strikers gathered near the treasury to march through central London to a rally at Westminster cathedral.
Peal Yannoah from Defra said, ‘I’m on strike because a number of people in Defra have been made compulsorily redundant.
‘The government is spending millions on consultants and an illegal war while letting people go. Who is going to be left to deliver the services?
‘They are also talking about relocating people to rural areas outside London, which are less diverse. Many black and ethnic minority people are not able to relocate.
‘This strike has been very good and shown management that we are serious.’
Duncan Gallon from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said, ‘We have drawn a line in the sand over compulsory redundancies. We’re having compulsory redundancies in the DTI – so we had to come out.
‘We need to build from within in the DTI to improve the union’s strength. At a national level we have a two-week overtime ban that needs to be strongly observed.
‘If there are no negotiations with management, we will need to take further action.’
There were large picket lines at civil service workplaces across the borough of Croydon in south London on Wednesday.
These included 12 at Lunar House, one of the country’s main home office buildings, where the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is housed, and up to 20 at Southern House, a revenue and customs workplace.
The impact of this included stopping the post being delivered to any of Croydon’s eight Home Office workplaces. Nearby, pickets successfully closed down Croydon Magistrates’ Court. Strikers then attended a lunchtime rally of 55 people.
John Morgan, Croydon Home Office PCS branch secretary, said, ‘It’s gone very well today. The mood inside has been quite good, with a number of people joinin the union in the last few days.
‘It shows what you can do if you take action. We need to follow up with guerrila tactics, attacking government flagship policies. Shutting down the courts is useful – this can get a lot of publicity.’
Nick Diamantis, Croydon and Bromley DWP branch secretary, said, ‘Some 20,000 jobs have been lost in DWP, with 10,000 more to go. There will be a 5 percent decrease in budgets year on year until at least 2012.
‘Concorde House in Croydon is being closed, with the staff moved to Thornton Heath. It’s all about profit – every day more offices are closed, more services are decimated, with members and benefit claimants having to travel further and further.
‘Some 2,500 people have been sacked on attendance management procedures, many of whom have genuine illnesses and have been dismissed before being assesed.’
PCS members in the revenue and customs department at Euston Tower in central London mounted an effective picket of their building.
Lane Taylor, president of the Euston Tower revenue and customs PCS branch, said, ‘We are protecting our jobs but also public services.
‘The government is decimating the civil service. People want to claim benefits – but 100,000 job losses will make it very difficult for us to provide that service.
‘Here, we stop people dodging taxes and that money goes to funding services such as hospitals and schools – although I would obviously dispute some of the things the government spends its money on, such as war.’
Claire, a PCS member, said, ‘At revenue and customs we pay tax credits to needy people. I audit companies to make sure that they collect the right amount of tax from their employees. All this money goes to provide services.
‘We are facing an appalling attacks on our jobs. People joined the civil service for job security and decent pensions, and all of that is under attack.’
Stephen Diggins, the branch’s PCS learning rep, said, ‘I am a Labour Party member and I’m against the government’s policy of cutting civil service jobs and the war on Iraq.
‘As much pressure as possible must be put on the government to force it to change its policies.’
The strike severely affected services at the British Museum, forcing the closure of some galleries, according to PCS members.
‘We have disrupted services,’ said a striker. ‘The campaign highlights to the public how the government is promoting cuts in the civil service.’
Many galleries across London were closed by the strike action, including the Tate Modern, the Victoria & Albert Museum and much of the National Gallery.
Picket lines were active at the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Imperial War Museum, among others. Some 40 PCS members picketed the Tate Modern, with a further 30 at the Tate Britain.
There were pickets at civil service offices across Birmingham today, as well as a lunchtime rally of around 150 people.
PCS members at the revenue and customs offices spoke about how they had transformed their branch in the last few months, leading to new members, livelier union meetings and a good picket.
Roger McKenzie, regional secretary of the TUC, told the rally, ‘This is a magnificent protest. It is part of the wave of people saying enough is enough.
‘We are not prepared to see our public services being whittled away. I am calling on everyone to join with health workers to protest against NHS cuts on Saturday 3 March.’
Job Centres, courts, and revenue and customs offices in Brighton & Hove saw lively picket lines from 7am.
Gerry Hyde, Brighton DWP PCS branch chair, said the mood for action was strong in the run-up to the strike, with union membership increasing.
There was particular discontent over the eventual sacking of staff who had been forced to take sick leave due to the stress of the job, she added.
‘Gordon Brown said that it was disgusting that Rover workers should be sacked by text,’ she said.
‘But we only discovered by watching him on TV in parliament that he was planning to sack 100,000 civil service staff. Then all the MPs waved their papers and cheered – that’s disgusting.’
Steve Peck, vice chair of the PCS branch, said the key issue in Brighton was the relocation of benefit delivery to Worthing, some ten miles away, which threatened job security in the Brighton area.
He said that the turnout on the picket lines in Brighton & Hove was the best he’d seen in eight years of disputes.
But while he supported the subsequent overtime ban called by the PCS, Steve explained that it was very difficult to manage. ‘I think there needs to be more strike action, possibly targeted at areas that will cause government the most disruption,’ he said.
Down the road, court clerks and admin staff were also on the picket line. PCS member Lindsey Driver told Socialist Worker,
‘The main issue for us is pay – equal pay for the same jobs. But we are also out in solidarity with all other sections of civil service workers facing cuts in jobs and provision.’
At the PCS lunchtime rally, Brighton strikers were joined by others from Worthing and Durrington. Richard Thom, PCS branch organiser from Worthing revenue and customes, said that despite some scabbing at his office, there was a real feeling of camaraderie on the picket lines.
‘This is not just about revenue and customs, delays in payments and so on – it’s about the principle of public services, not profit.
‘We collect income tax that goes towards hospitals and other public services – money that could ultimately go towards keeping the A&E department at our local hospital open.’
The theme was echoed by Andy Reid, PCS NEC member, at the rally, when he called for PCS branches to support the NHS day of action on 3 March. ‘We all face the same attacks, so we need to face them together.’
The Valuation Office and DWP in Folkestone, Kent, both ran a lively and effective joint picket line today.
It including a number of PCS members who have never picketed or even been on strike before, all of whom picketed fantastically.
We managed to turn back a number of people who had intended to work, and had some very vocal and encouraging support from members of the public – much to the distress of some of the managers in the Job Centre.
I was particularly impressed by the depth of public feeling when one of my fellow pickets informed me that some members of the public had been refusing to go into the Job Centre to sign on, as a show of solidarity.
Among PCS members in my branch on the picket line there was a real feeling that the time has come for action – and that action should be swift and firm.
There was also a real understanding that the action should be supported by all the civil service workers across the country.
The response from PCS members across Liverpool was brilliant. Liverpool passport office reported 100 percent strike for the support. Less than 10 staff went into work at the DWP call centre I work at.
Some 40 people joined the PCS in the run-up to the strike at Garston contact centre. The prison officers at Walton prison joined PCS members on the picket line.
Representatives from the RMT, Unison, FBU and NUT unions came to a lunchtime rally of 100 strikers.
I raised the need to take a further two-day national strike as the next step in our campaign – and received loud applause.
There were PCS picket lines at civil service offices across Manchester today. Delegations of PCS strikers joined a large and lively lunchtime rally with health workers and Fujitsu workers, who were also on strike.
Sue Bond, vice president of the PCS, got a round of applause for pointing out that the money spent on the war in Iraq could be far better used to fund public services.
Pickets brought the branch banner to Albert Bridge House, a large civil service office in the centre of Manchester. This building holds two sections – revenue and benefits.
Damian Carr, PCS group executive member for revenue, joined the picket line. He told Socialist Worker that one of the main areas of concern is the closure of local civil service workplaces.
He said, ‘This will effectively push people out of their jobs as they move the work further away. A lot of people have to work locally if they have children or care responsibilities.
‘The strike has been very solid,’ he added. ‘It’s good to see all the sections of the union out together. We have drawn a line in the sand. This is not what we expect from a Labour government.’
Karen Clingan works in a section dealing with debt. She told Socialist Worker that she was really pleased with the strength of the strike. ‘There are about 90 staff in my section and they are really supporting the strike,’ she said.
At Trinity Bridge House tax and revenue office there were around 15 pickets at any one time. It is a very busy office and the area round the building is normally full of people in the morning going in to work.
But It was very quiet this morning-the strike was very solid. Es Chorlton from the Salford revenue branch of the PCS which covers the office said, ‘The strike is not just about specific job losses – it’s about future of public services.’
The picket lines outside the courts in Manchester city centre were very mixed – new and long serving staff, men and women.
Dave Vincent, secretary of the local PCS courts branch, said that he has worked at the courts since 1974.
‘This is the best supported strike that I have been involved in in the time I have worked here,’ he added.
A number of judges stopped on the picket line to wish the strikers well. Dave said, ‘At one time, judges would have deported people, such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, to Australia for being trade unionists.
‘You can see how far things have gone that some judges are now supporting a strike over the public sector.’
He added, ‘I think what we need now is a public sector wide strike – teachers, nurses, local government workers, firefighters as well as civil service workers. We all face the same threats.’
Sue Quinlan, a PCS health and safety rep at the county court, told Socialist Worker, ‘The government doesn’t care about public services.
‘They just want more work from us for less money. It’s about them putting profits before people – they run services like a business.’
There were three pickets at the Cheetham Hill job centre in north Manchester. In Rochdale the pickets were angry at the planned closure of local offices and moving of work to call centres.
There were also pickets at the Ofsted office and the British Council, both in Manchester city centre. The pickets were predominantly young and over half the pickets were women.
Pickets at civil service workplaces all over Nottingham reported a solid response to today’s strike, despite management’s intimidating presence outside the DWP in Parliament Street.
The liveliest picket lines were outside the Crown Court and the Magistrates’ Court. They turned away the post and a couple of couriers.
There were 18 to 20 pickets outside the Driving Standards Agency. Strikers reported that 200 new members had joined PCS throughout the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency in the last two days.
Up to 200 gathered for a march through Nottingham led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown look-alikes and the Grim Reaper.
Workers chanted, ‘No ifs, no buts – stop government cuts!’ Balloons were released – one for each 100 jobs to be lost in the civil service.
After handing in a petition protesting about the loss of jobs in the local area to Nottingham City Council, the march ended with a rally with speakers from the Stop the War Coalition and the Save Nottingham’s Hospitals campaign.
The Tony Blair look-alike turned out to be Chris Berry from the newly unionised Independent Living Foundation and the PCS Youth Network.
He told the rally that since they had organised their workplace, the number of unfair warnings had been greatly reduced. He said it was his first strike and his first public speech – and it felt great.
Tony Conway from the PCS national executive said that the day had been a marvellous first step, and that the national executive were setting aside £1 million to back a serious, ongoing campaign to defend public services.
Kate Douglas, PCS joint branch secretary in the Oxford office of the Department for Work and Pensions, said, ‘The people the government is seeking to axe aren’t bowler-hatted Sir Humphreys based in Whitehall or faceless bureaucrats.
‘They provide vital services that touch everybody’s lives from cradle to grace. They work as a team delivering the things we take for granted such as your driving licence, passport or child benefit.’
‘At the Job Centre in Aylesbury there were 13 people on the picket line. The union has recruited 20 people there in the run-up to the strike. There were eight on the picket at Milton Keynes and a large and lively picket at the Inland Revenue.’
Some 50 people came to a lunchtime rally in Oxford to support the strike. Administrative staff at RAF Brize Norton, RAF Benson and at the Ministry of Defence supply depots in Bicester also staged pickets.
Some 2,200 PCS union members at the Identity and Passport Service are already working to rule over a pay dispute.
They joined today’s strike at passports offices around the country. Liverpool passport office reported 100 percent strike for the support.
Sandra works at the passport office in Westminster, central London. ‘This is the first time I’ve been on a picket line,’ she told Socialist Worker.
‘I’ve been heavily involved in the work to rule. We need a decent pay rise. I can’t afford to take a day without pay but I have no choice.
‘We need to all come together across the public service to take on the government that clearly isn’t listening.’
The picket lines in Glasgow were well attended, and only the usual suspects crossed.
At one office in Glasgow, one person turned round after passing the picket line and joined the union.
Some 500 strikers attended a lunchtime rally at the Pavilion Theatre in the city centre. The strikers heard PCS speakers Eddy Reilly, Sam Hall, and PCS president Janice Godrich.
Also addressing the meeting was Phil McGarry from the RMT and the Scottish TUC, who gave a us a sceptical speech on Gordon Brown and his onwards steps to privatisation.
Janice said that support was solid and thanked our bosses for their letters to us urging us not to strike – which had helped to make today such a success.
She also made it clear that in the up-and-coming elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, all civil servants would ask candidates where they stand on pensions and public services against private profits.
The strike was virtually 100 percent solid at the small DWP office on Commercial Street in Leith. According to one of the PCS pickets, only managers were turning up for work.
‘DWP jobs in Edinburgh have gradually been cut back over the last few years,’ he added. ‘There used to be 11 benefits offices across Edinburgh – now there are only five.
‘Also, I’ve heard rumours that more benefits processing will be moved to Bathgate – this could mean the loss of another 100 jobs.’
The strike went very well in Kirkcaldy, with a number of PCS members attending the picket line at the Department for Work and Pensions.
‘There was a very good and determined atmosphere among members,’ said Steve West, a PCS activist in Kirkcaldy. ‘We had lots of support from the public.’
There was a solid PCS picket line at the Scottish Executive’s Victoria Quay offices today.
The PCS is the biggest trade union among the almost 2,000 workforce and most PCS members are refusing to turn up for work.
Mary works as a legal information assistant at Victoria Quay. She told Socialist Worker, ‘Although the job cuts don’t specifically affect the Scottish Executive at the moment, there is a definite feeling that the cuts will affect us eventually.’
Another PCS picket said, ‘The Scottish Executive is carrying a lot of vacancies and it’s also probable that we’ll eventually have Gordon Brown’s miserly 2 percent wage increase limit imposed upon us.
‘At present, it’s difficult to convince everybody of this, but we have had some good arguments on the picket line this morning.’
Eight PCS strikers mounted a picket line outside Cardiff’s magistrates court. A local solicitor refused to cross.
Picket Liz Taylor said, ‘While the picket line was smaller than our last strike, even fewer people crossed the line.’ Some 80 strikers attended a lunch rally in the city centre.
At Newport tax office eight PCS members picketed the building. ‘The main issue for us is the closure programme,’ one explained. ‘They’re trying to centralise all the work in Cardiff.’
Some workers had been bussed in from Cardiff in an attempt to break the strike – but morale on the picket line was very high.
‘Only two from our office have gone in,’ said one picket. Some 60 strikers joined the Newport strike rally.
Welsh Assembly members Edwina Hart and Val Lloyd visited Swansea PCS picket lines this morning.
Val Lloyd said, ‘We’ve been supporting strikes by visiting the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) and the Pensions Office.
‘We’re offering solidarity and support wherever possible as these jobs are important. We need to increase jobs like these in Wales.’
Edwina Hart said, ‘The issues around this strike impact directly on my constituents. This is a large loss of jobs in important public services.
‘The pensions office was only set up up a few years ago and already we’re seeing cuts. These jobs are vital for the public.’
Roger Langley, PCS senior shop steward said, ‘Our members are fed up of just being classed as numbers – they are people!
‘Job cuts and national pay are cutting public services – the future for our staff looks very bleak.’
Gloria Tanner, another PCS senior shop steward, added, ‘Some 90-95 percent of us are out, which is very pleasing.’
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