Following the announcement of an unprecedented offensive by the
government on its own employees in the civil service the PCS (Public
and Commercial Services Union) is mobilising its entire membership to
take the government head on.
Over the summer we were confronted with a scene that would have been
almost comic if it was not so serious. A Labour government vying with
the Tories in a bizarre upward spiral of promise and counter-promise
over who could deliver the greatest number of job cuts in the civil
Gordon Brown announced in July that the government plans to cut
104,000 jobs, one in five, from the service over the next three years.
This will cause total chaos. In addition 20,000 jobs are to be
relocated from London and the South East. The closure programme has
already begun; the DWP announced the closure of the first 40 jobcentres
and social security offices last month.
All this comes on top of years of attacks, the latest include
changes to terms and conditions, longer hours, and an increase in
retirement age to 65. Over the years attacks have been coupled with a
vast increase in workload – this has had an effect on morale; in many
departments it is at rock bottom and people are taking record amounts
of time off work because of stress. The government wants to change sick
absence arrangements and not pay for the first three days of sickness –
however it is not possible to cure a disease by denying the symptoms.
The union swung into motion by attempting to open negotiations with
the employers while building up and preparing their members for a
national ballot of all 265,000 members. The union set the first strike
action for November 5th, and called for a strong yes vote to give their
negotiators more weight. And they got exactly what they were looking
for with two to one voting to take action (Yes 64.5%: No 35.5%) on a
42% turnout. The union is trying to build up a strong campaign and they
are getting off to a good start by showing the bosses that they mean
business and are prepared to take action to back up negotiation.
Through the media the government are trying to drive a wedge in
peoples mind between backroom ‘skivers’ and the people in the front
line ‘who do all the work’. A cabinet spokeswoman justified
the cuts by saying “Our decisions mean more police, teachers, doctors
and nurses. We will not be diverted from this essential investment and
we hope to continue to discuss with the unions in a constructive way.”
This distinction between frontline staff and backroom staff is a
nonsense it is obvious that one depends on the other to provide a
service –cuts are not going to improve the service.
Exact details of how the cuts will be distributed have not been
given but a rough breakdown between department’s show that all will be
hit and the impact will be greater in some than others.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), is one of the biggest
losers – it is an easy target because of the constant tabloid onslaught
against benefits claimants. In the DWP, as in all other departments
these cuts are going to result in closures, and place a greater
workload on remaining staff. It is also a painful irony that many of
those who are sacked will end up sitting on the other side of the desk
The union is prepared to negotiate but is standing by the principle
of total opposition to any involuntary job losses or relocations. At
the moment departments looking at the numbers they have to cut will
also be keeping an eye on their budgets by trying to force out those
who are cheap and easy to sack. And it is not only the issue of jobs –
if the government succeeds in carrying through these sackings they
would be able to revise the terms and conditions of the entire
workforce at will.
The union has so far planned a one-day strike and developed a
programme of rallies and meetings in every area. This will build morale
among members, a large number of whom are going on strike for the first
The example of the recent firefighters strike showed that the Blair
government will try to use all their power to defeat and crush a union
into submission. The civil servants will have to wage a hard struggle
to defend their jobs and conditions. Negotiation is absolutely
necessary, as is the tactic of a one-day strike. However if these do
not change the governments mind the union will have to up the stakes by
building up the campaign. The most effective tactic will be to pull out
key sectors for longer periods to put the squeeze on the government.
The firefighters strike showed that the Blair government was not
only prepared but was eager to take on the unions. But it also showed
that public opinion, and the trade union movement as a whole will get
behind this kind of struggle. Support from the movement will play a key
role in the dispute if it is to be successful, and its outcome will be
important for the rest of the movement.
This dispute also has a strong political aspect to it – these
workers are directly employed by the state under a Labour government
that is attacking workers in the interests of big business. That
shouldn’t be tolerated any longer. The trade unions must open up a
struggle against the Blairites for control of the Labour Party to
return it to socialist policies that reflect the aspirations and
interests of working people.
Note: PCS activities are taking place in every area of the country. For full details consult the PCS website: www.pcs.org.uk
From the British Socialist Appeal,