RAGE AGAINST bullying managers swept through the civil service last week as hundreds of members of the PCS union walked out on unofficial strike action against victimisation. Their action came as the union leadership stepped up the dispute in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), planning a new series of national strikes.
DWP workers in London, Leeds and Sheffield defied the law to walk out when bosses suspended union activists who refused to carry out work on the hated “performance assessment” pay schemes. “Between 150 and 200 workers walked out in offices in central Sheffield in response to two more suspensions,” says Martin John, a Sheffield civil servant. “This was the second time people have walked out unofficially. Workers at the DWP headquarters at Quarry House in Leeds also walked out after suspensions.”
Phil Pardoe, a central London civil servant, says, “Management suspended Farouk Kholwadia at the Bloomsbury social security office on Tuesday of last week. People called a car park meeting the next morning and the majority of people walked out. The office closed. People said that we ought to support him because he was refusing to write reports that people don’t want. It was the basics of trade unionism. You support your workmates if employers pick on them. People also walked out in two other offices in central London in support of Farouk. The people suspended can return to work when they like-on the condition that they agree to write the reports or when the reports procedure is over. The union leadership is set to decide to establish a hardship fund for them this week.”
“When staff heard what had happened they were annoyed and angry,” says Rob Bryson, whose office in Soho, central London, also walked out. “Farouk was refusing to take part in an appraisal system that is designed to keep our pay down. He was boycotting it and trying to keep it from being implemented, along with many other people. Because of that management suspended him without pay. People said that this guy’s sticking his neck out for us, the very least we can do is show some support and solidarity. We had a meeting and voted to walk out. It had an impact. The office had to close early. People are being suspended without pay until they agree to oversee this system that will reduce colleagues’ pay. It is pure blackmail and despicable. We are in a huge battle. Things are very tense. Civil servants are not traditionally the most militant group of workers but we’ve decided we’re not going to take this.”
The attacks by civil service bosses have added to workers’ anger. Around 90,000 civil servants struck in February and April this year. They are fighting against low pay and against Gordon Brown’s plans for huge job cuts. The union is planning further action-a three-day strike at the end of this month and a five-day strike at the beginning of July.
Phil Pardoe, who is on the group executive committee that runs the union in the DWP, says, “PCS union regional committees in the DWP are being consulted about the proposal to call three days of action in May. The group executive committee is set to meet on Tuesday of next week to decide the next action. The proposed five-day strike action around 1 July, which is the date of the 2004 pay settlement, will be balloted on.”
Martin John, who is a member of the PCS national executive, says, “The Yorkshire and Humberside regional committee endorsed the call for further action. A number of activists understand that this is a long and decisive battle on which a lot of things are hanging. We are in a decisive battle over the relationship between pay and performance. This is a winnable dispute. Management are weak and divided. Its pay strategy procedure is failing. Many are wringing their hands about the pay appraisal system. It has no support. It’s not even at the difficult bit yet. In one month they will have to tell workers that they have been downgraded. Most of the reports will have been written, if not by the refuseniks, but the next tier of management. This will see more protests and bad publicity. The union will be proven right. Thousands of people are going to be marked down. Some 10 percent are going to get the bottom marking, because of the quota system. People are going to go up the wall. Workloads are going up. Cuts are being made and management can’t replace staff due to Gordon Brown’s plans to cut 40,000 jobs. Loads of people are leaving because of the pressure of the job. Management will discover that staff have not got any goodwill left. The union is fighting, and it can win.”
OVER 290,000 PCS civil servants union members are balloting for national executive elections. Martin John says, “Activists need to be organising the pay dispute campaign and the elections. “If there is any resurgence of the right wing it will destroy the pay campaign. I urge everyone to vote for the Left Unity/PCS Democrats slate.”
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle