Some 250,000 civil service workers in the PCS union struck on May Day against job cuts, low pay and privatisation.
Their solid action is leading the revolt against New Labour’s pay freeze for public sector workers. Civil service workers and their supporters sent Socialist Worker reports of the day of action.
Paul Williams, PCS Department for Transport group president Nottingham said, ‘There has been a lot of debate on what action the union needs to take next. I have been arguing that we need to take action with other unions over pay. The attacks on public sector pay have increased the anger among workers. I think things are going to really kick off.’
There were good pickets across the city. Martin Kenny, the PCS branch chair of the Department for Transport and Department for Communities and Local Government, said, ‘It’s ridiculous that when civil service workers are on £14,000 a year they’re asked to accept pay cuts.
‘If Brown gets away with cutting 100,000 jobs it will impact on frontline services where the worst off live.’
Tom Woodcock, secretary of Cambridge trades council, said, ‘We’ve had picket lines at all three PCS workplaces in Cambridge – Defra, the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
‘The lines have been twice as large as when the PCS were last out in January. More people have joined the union and become active.
‘We held an evening May Day rally at Anglia Ruskin university, which is facing 90 job losses. There’s starting to be an awareness that public sector workers are facing common attacks – and need to fight back together.’
‘There was a really good mood in Cardiff with an 80 percent turnout for the strike. There were 15 on the Llanishen picket line,’ said Marianne Owens from Cardiff Revenue and Customs.
‘There has been good support from the public. Refuse workers came to support us, and there was a rally with reps from Cardiff trades council and the CWU postal workers’ union.’
‘There were picket lines at all the major workplaces in the Scottish capital. It was a solid strike again, with the majority not going in,’ said Neil Davidson, PCS branch secretary Edinburgh Central.
‘There was a lot of public support and media attention. PCS members leafleted the public on Princes Street. We then had a rally with speakers from other unions.’
‘Pickets across the city reported that the strike was solid,’ said Duncan Brown.
‘Pickets outside the Revenue and Customs office in Blythswood House said that of 198 workers, only two were working. And 200 strikers from across the city joined a confident strike rally.’
Simon Brett told Socialist Worker, ‘The picket lines were strong around Leeds. They were rock solid in the DWP, with the department mostly being shut down. We had a really strong picket line in Revenue and Customs.’
Both Inland Revenue and DWP offices had good, lively picket lines. The Inland Revenue has 92 percent trade union membership. Pickets believe only about 8 percent crossed picket lines. Those that went in were mostly not unionised – though not all non-union people went in.
‘The strike has gone very well in Liverpool. It has been massively supported,’ said PCS DWP group executive member Dave Owens.
‘Virtually no one has gone into work in the big DWP call centres in Liverpool. We need more action. The key thing is to link up with the other unions who are being hit by the 2 percent pay freeze and have united action.’
The capital saw picket lines at most civil service workplaces. There were 40 people picketing the Tate Modern gallery. James O’Brien, PCS branch secretary at Tate Galleries, told Socialist Worker, ‘The treasury’s 2 percent limit means pay cuts. We are also concerned about outsourcing to private companies, so we are striking in defence of the public service ethos.’
‘We got a lot of support from workers from other unions, such as Unison, UCU and the NUJ,’ said Anna Owens from Revenue and Customs at Euston Tower in central London.
Zita Holbourne of the PCS national executive toured picket lines on the union’s battlebus. She said, ‘The picket lines have been very well supported with a good presence on all of them.
Phil Pardoe said, ‘I spoke at a meeting of 35 GMB union shop stewards at British Airways and got a really good response. Like many workers they are facing the same sort of attacks on pay and pensions as us.’
Besides the main civil service workplaces (Revenue and Customs, Department of Work and Pensions, Driving Standards Agency) all sorts of office blocks in the City, housing a civil service work unit, sprouted a PCS picket in the door way.
Later up to 200 strikers marched through the City Centre, lead by the Grim Reaper, and with one in five of the marchers (the proportion of the work force facing cuts) wearing T-shirts labelled ‘Cancelled by the Exchequer’.
Tina Watts told Socialist Worker, ‘It has gone very well, with a very good percentage of workers out in the Oxford job centre. We have had lots of support from the public.
‘People from the trades council and students came down to our picket line. We had a rally with speakers from other unions.’
Members of the PCS civil service workers’ union came out in droves on May Day and marched through Preston city centre to protest over pay, job cuts and privatisation.
They rallied at the Chartist memorial, laid a wreath to those killed and maimed in 1852, then held a meeting and hustings. Respect candidates Michael Lavalette and Elaine Abbot were the only candidates who turned up out of those invited to attend by the PCS.
‘One striker said, ‘We all need to stand together’,’ said Ben Drake. ‘We agreed it’d be more effective if the unions could all be out together.’
‘Pickets also had leaflets on the PCS Make Your Vote Count campaign, and were clearly pleased with their union’s critical and independent approach to political funding.’
The strike has been really solid in Fife. Hardly anyone went into work in Kirkcaldy, and it was a similar story in Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline.
The only people who went into the office in Dunfermline were people in suits who workers had never seen before.
Kate Stewart, the Solidarity lead candidate in this area for the Scottish parliamentary elections went to the picket line in Dunfermline to show her and Solidarity’s support for our dispute.
She sent the rest of us a message of support saying, “Give Labour a doing today. Solidarity will give Labour a doing on Thursday.” I’m supporting her in that.
The strike was solid. Court workers who face proposed regional pay were particularly strong.
There were good pickets at Albert Bridge House and Trinity Bridge House.
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