Civil Servants are facing some of the most vicious attacks on themselves and their unions in a generation. In the run up to the annual PCS national conference, which begins on Monday 20th May in Brighton, London PCS member Julian Sharpe outlines the issues facing the public sector union and its membership.
Civil Servants are facing some of the most vicious attacks on themselves and their unions in a generation. In the run up to the annual PCS national conference, which begins on Monday 20th May, London PCS member Julian Sharpe outlines the issues facing the public sector union and its membership. Socialist Appeal supporters will be present at the PCS conference in Brighton, hosting a fringe meeting on the question of the general strike. See below for more details.
After years of below inflation pay increases, the Tory-led coalition government imposed a pay freeze for two years and have followed that by announcing a pay cap of 1% until 2016. For all civil servants this alone is resulting in a continuing fall in real pay over a sustained period of time.
If that wasn’t enough, all civil servants, except for the very lowest paid, are paying increased pension contributions. These deductions from pay are ratcheting up each year and will increase again in 2014. These changes mean that for many civil servants take-home pay has been cut and will fall further.
Civil service jobs are being cut each year. The coalition government plans to cut jobs by 23% from 2010-15 and already some 80,000 jobs have gone. Offices in different departments all over the country have closed or are under threat of closure.
Terms and conditions at work are being worsened with no consultation with trade unions. This is under the laughingly termed civil service “reform” programme of the government. In line with the worst employers, ministers are pushing for “relative assessment” where all staff are placed in different categories of performance with quotas introduced for each category. Those coming in the bottom category will be singled out for disciplinary action and possible dismissal, regardless of their actual performance.
Access to sick pay is being cut back. Disciplinary and grievance procedures have been changed to make dismissals easier. There is more use of contractors and agency staff. An increase in working hours is being advanced by ministers, only as a suggestion now, but no doubt preparing the ground for the future when they will seek to impose longer working hours.
All this is on top of previous changes to the way pensions are calculated leading to cuts in the pension received at retirement. There have also been cuts to redundancy pay thereby reducing the cost of making a civil servant redundant.
The latest attack from this government is on the ability of civil service trade unions to organise to oppose these attacks. The time available for trade union representatives to represent members in disciplinaries, grievances, and to negotiate pay and terms and conditions is being cut back and will be strictly limited. The Coalition have decided that no lay rep can have more than 50% facility time. For all reps, no time off work will be allowed for internal trade union activities. For example, many delegates to the PCS National Conference will have to attend in their own time, either taking their holiday entitlement or losing pay.
The scale of all these attacks combined takes your breath away. Delegates at this year’s PCS Conference will be debating what should be done.
PCS Members themselves have shown their determination to struggle. Each time they have been balloted they have voted decisively for strike action. After each ballot, members are called out on a series of one-day strikes. After this year’s ballot the union held a one-day strike followed by a half-day strike. Many loyal members have lost many days pay over the past few years and still they continue to vote for industrial action and continue to strike.
Unlike some other unions, PCS does have a leadership drawn from the left – Left Unity, as the broad left is called in PCS. The General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, is from Left Unity, as is the overwhelming majority of the National Executive Committee (NEC). Unlike other trade unions, the PCS leadership, to their credit, has organised industrial action and continues to do so.
However, a strategy and perspective to defend and promote workers’ interests is lacking from the PCS leadership. As in other parts of the international labour movement, such as for example, in Greece or Spain, it is not enough to call endless one-day strikes and expect the establishment to listen and change their policies.
Socialist Appeal have consistently said that these cuts and attacks against civil servants are happening, not just because of the evil nature of the Government, but because of the crisis of capitalism. With a determined and resolute struggle, concessions can be won –temporarily – but these concessions will inevitably be taken away once the class struggle dies down unless capitalism itself is abolished.
Socialist Appeal supporters say that it is only with this perspective that these attacks on civil servants can be fought against successfully. An effective strategy of industrial action with real teeth, based on this perspective, supported by members, needs to be drawn up by the PCS leadership in conjunction with activists.
Whilst PCS members can win our dispute on our own, clearly co-ordinated industrial action with other unions can only make our action more effective. This does not mean that we should call off our action while we wait for other unions to organise their own action. But we should campaign amongst our own members, and support the calls from other unions, such as UNITE, UNISON and the POA for the most effective form of co-ordinated action. We should campaign for a general strike. In the first instance this means a one-day general strike to rally and organise our forces, to show our strength both to our own members and to the Government.
Socialist Appeal Fringe meeting @ PCS Conference
Tuesday 21st May
“The General Strike: 1926 and today”
Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal
John Dunn, Justice for Mineworkers
The Victory Pub
6 Duke Street
Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1AH