By Matthew Cookson
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‘We need to pile on pressure over pay’

This article is over 18 years, 1 months old
CIVIL SERVANTS in job centres and benefit offices across London walked out on strike on Thursday and Friday of last week in fury at the government imposing a pay offer.
Issue 1880

CIVIL SERVANTS in job centres and benefit offices across London walked out on strike on Thursday and Friday of last week in fury at the government imposing a pay offer.

The members of the PCS union in the Department for Work and Pensions didn’t wait for official ballots. They stopped work and headed out into the street-proud that they were standing up for themselves and fighting back.

The wildcat strikes took place in east, central and north west London.

They followed unofficial strikes in Glasgow and Essex the week before.

Offices in Stratford, Canning Town, Walthamstow, Poplar and Leyton in east London struck on Thursday. On Friday Willesden, Kilburn, Harlesden, Ruislip and three Harrow offices in west London walked out.

The Shepherd’s Bush and Bloomsbury offices in central London joined the strikes.

Management had imposed a terrible pay deal on the 85,000 workers in the department four days before the result of a ballot over the deal.

Workers rejected it by a massive 94 percent. That and the wildcat strikes show the mood among civil servants.

‘I am disgusted at what the government has done, imposing that insult of an offer. It is just disgraceful and we can’t just let them do it,’ said Ray from the Poplar job centre in east London.

Gulam Mustafa is one of the union reps at the office. He told Socialist Worker, ‘There are over 10,000 workers in the civil service who are paid less than £10,000 a year. This government says it doesn’t have the money to pay us a decent wage.

‘But it found millions to wage war on Iraq and to spend on George Bush’s visit to Britain. We deserve a decent pay rise. We are really pissed off with the government and our management.’

Boshura explained, ‘We are only fighting for what we deserve-a decent pay rise. I hope we take more action, and official union action, if they don’t give us more money.’

Oli Rahman is another of the PCS union reps in Poplar, and chair of the local PCS union branch.

He explained, ‘The members have walked out to show how angry they are with what has happened over our pay. What the government has done is an absolute disgrace. They should be ashamed of themselves to talk about democracy when they do something like this. This is just the start of a fight. It won’t stop until we win. We can learn from the postal workers who showed Royal Mail a thing or two.’

Saroj works at the Stratford office in east London, where over 80 people met and voted to walk out.

She said, ‘Management aren’t listening to us. We are the worst paid department in the civil service. We have gone on strike to make them listen to us. The strike ballot should be earlier.’

‘If we don’t do something about this how much more can we take?’ says Pam Lightfoot, a central London civil servant. Her office walked out over safety issues in their office on Friday of last week. People were also angry about pay.

‘They are imposing this offer from above. I have worked in the department for 22 years. This is the first year I have felt as bad as this. It is the worst atmosphere ever. The anger needs bearing out in action.’

The group executive committee that runs the union in the Department of Work and Pensions met on Thursday of last week.

It voted by 21 votes to six to delay the start of any official ballot for strike action until Monday 5 January.

Many civil servants are disappointed that the ballot isn’t taking place sooner.

Phil Pardoe, a central London civil servant and member of the group executive, told Socialist Worker, ‘Most of the reasons the group executive came up with for the delay were administrative. We are also likely to be balloted for action alongside civil servants in the Home Office, the Prison Service and the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

‘But all this is outweighed by the fact that we got a massive mandate from members in the ballot to reject the pay deal. There is no doubting the mood of members over pay. It was unprecedented in the civil service. We need to maintain the momentum. There is anger but we will now have to maintain it for a month and a half.

‘If you’re boxing and you’ve got someone on the ropes, you pummel them rather than giving them time to recover. I made the argument that our strikes need to be escalated quickly. The firefighters lost because their union leaders failed to call all out action.

‘I was angry that the union president, Janice Godrich, said in the group executive meeting that the firefighters had lost their dispute because they had made it too ‘political’. But the government made that dispute political, just as they will ours. We can’t avoid the issue. We need activists meeting everywhere, involving all the departments, to coordinate action. We need to start the argument now with members about the serious action we need to win this fight.’

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