As was to be expected the propaganda war has already started
after the first day of strike action. One the one side is the government
claiming that the PCS action had little effect as only 80,000 PCS members took
strike action on Monday, March 8th, as compared to the PCS figure
from the front line of over 200,000. This shows that the battle is not only of
strike action and resolve but also of words as the government tries to
undermine the democratic ballot result of PCS members to defend terms and
conditions that were negotiated and settled as far back as 1986. It would seem
that the anti-union government of Margaret Thatcher was prepared to agree a
deal with the civil servants unions which the present Labour government is now
trying to unilaterally rip up in order to save money on future redundancies.
Working people are yet again being forced to pay the price for a capitalist
crisis that they did not cause.
On this second day of the strike Darrall Cozens (UCU and Coventry Trades Council) spoke to Jim Molloy, PCS Branch Secretary for HM
Revenue and Customs, on the picket line outside Sherbourne House in
Coventry city centre. Additional information from PCS Branch Chair, Ian Hough, and Vincenzo Infantino (UCU). Pictures by Pat Cowling from Coventry PCS.
Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, was on Channel 4 News last night asking
why it was that the government can unilaterally destroy terms and conditions,
destroy the contracts of civil servants, when at the same time it justifies
bonuses to the bankers on the basis of their contractual conditions. What is
the feeling of the membership?
Jim Molloy: The
feeling was eloquently expressed by Mark, really. There is a lot of anger in
there especially at a time when the MPs themselves are sorting out their
parachute payments. For example I think it is Douglas Hogg who is getting
£70,000 and he as the one who tried to get his moat paid for on expenses. At
the same time the government is trying to cut our redundancy pay. They are not
fooling anybody. There is only one reason they are doing this and that is
because they are going to come after us and sack hundreds of thousands of civil
DC: They are
talking about 700,000 jobs in the pipeline.
JM: We are
expecting in all of the public sector some 700,000 over the next few years. And
over the past 6 years in the civil service we have lost over 100,000 jobs. We
think that they are coming for us with a similar figure in mind over the next 5
DC: One of the
traditional tradeoffs in the civil service has been that members work for low
pay in anticipation of a settlement at the end of their working life which
would give them something going some way towards a decent standard of living.
But three years redundancy pay on a salary of £15,000 is bugger all really.
JM: That’s the
thing. We are public servants exactly because of that. We enjoy serving the
public, providing a service. We cover everything from cradle to grave, from
maternity pay to retirement pension and over the years we appreciate the fact
that we get paid less than the private sector because we are less at risk. And
that used to be the trade off, as we would get a pension and redundancy pay in
the unlikely event that we would be made redundant. But those unlikely events
are happening more and more now. So the myth of civil servants having a job for
life does not apply any more. In March alone in Revenue and Customs they put
through a voluntary redundancy scheme and we lost 1,300 staff nationally. We
have also had 200 office closures in rural locations, which have robbed those
communities of those services. And in employment black spots like Hereford,
some 50 staff have gone. And there is nothing locally for them to go on to. And
with the council cuts coming up, what jobs are going to be available for those
facing redundancy either in the council or in the civil service?
DC: Particularly in the present climate. The
budget deficit at the moment is £175bn and the government is going to try and
reduce that over a 4 or 5-year period, the present government. Kevin Greenway
from the PCS EC said at a meeting yesterday that you don’t know who you will be
negotiating with after May.
JM: Correct. The
spectre is always held up of a Conservative government coming in, but the
ironic thing is that the scheme that we currently have was negotiated by
Margaret Thatcher in 1986/87 and she was no friend of the trade unions or civil
servants generally. And now Gordon Brown is seeking to rip up that agreement
and give us something worse.
DC: So we have
the Party of Labour destroying people in the labour movement and the
Conservatives negotiating something that was acceptable at the time.
JM: But David Cameron has left us with no
illusions as to what to expect as he has said he is going to come after our
compensation scheme and our alleged gold plate pensions. But when you look at
the facts the average civil service pension is £6,500 per year. If you exclude
high earners, it is just £4,200. In addition, more than 40,000 pensioners receive
a civil service pension of less than £1,000 per year. So it is hardly gold
plated! But of course Cameron and Brown and their friends in the Daily Mail
just look at the headlines and see what a senior Whitehall mandarin gets and
forget about our low paid members around the country.
DC: And the
percentage of your members who earn less than £15,000 is almost 20%.
JM: And 50% of
our members earn less than the national average.
DC: I have been
active in the labour movement since the mid 1960s and I am a member of the
Labour Party because I believe in fighting to reclaim the LP for labour. What
is the general feeling of your members towards the LP given what the labour
government is doing?
JM: I think that
a lot of our members would have been natural Labour voters. But they are now
disenchanted because they look around and all the main political parties are
having an auction on how many civil service jobs they can cut and how quickly.
It is a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas! Nobody loves us. We are a bit
like Millwall fans! We are faced with a stark choice. We have Labour saying
80,000 jobs in HMRC and the Tories saying 100,000 and the Lib Dems trying to
gain popularity by outbidding everyone else. A sign of the times for us was
that before the Euro elections we held a “Make your Vote Count” meeting and the
only main party not to turn up was Labour. They did not want to face the
questions. We are hoping to run another one of those before the general
election and give it some more publicity as the Euro elections did not exactly
DC: I was at that
meeting and I know that Dave Nellist was there for his electoral group and this
time they are standing as a TUSC coalition, but they only got 0.9% of the vote
in the Euro elections so they didn’t really come over as an alternative to
Labour for working class people.
JM: No, and I
think that that is the problem. But my concern there is that civil servants are
so disenchanted that they will not go out and vote for anybody.
abstentionism is on the cards.
JM: Yes, and it
is a problem that is rife in the trade union movement. For example our postal
ballot for action was always open to attack by the employers saying that only
30% of people voted, but that was about the same as the number who voted in a
general election. But on the day of action 90% of the members are solidly
behind us. And we knew that that would be the case. We are confident in the
members supporting us when we have to call action. And we don’t do it very
often. We are encouraged by today as we haven’t had any drift on the second day
of the strike. It is basically the same scabs or strike breakers that went in
yesterday, mostly senior managers or people too thick to realise what is going
on. So the support is still solid. People are still talking to us as they cross
the line but looking more sheepish than they did yesterday. And we have had
very good coverage in the local press and on the radio and TV, such as Mark
Serwotka on Channel 4 last night.
DC: So it is
finally dawning on those who control the media how serious this issue is.
JM: We were very
pleasantly surprised about the coverage we got. We have been unlucky in the
past when we have taken action because it has coincided with some member of the
royal family dying or major terrorist events so coverage wasn’t good. This time
it is better. We are encouraged, for example, by the headlines in today’s Times
that slates HRMC management for having a workforce that is disengaged and we
see that on a daily basis. But there are also possibilities of victory for the
labour movement as we see that the CWU members seem to have come to an
agreement with their employers. They were vilified in the press and told that
there was no support for them and we sent messages of support to the local CWU
branch. And what has happened demonstrates to us that if we stick together, we
DC: We have only
seen the superficial details of the CWU agreement but it looks quite positive.
JM: Well, their
EC is recommending it and although that is not always a positive sign, they
have fought hard and they appear to have won something, which is excellent.
DC: During the
action that you have been taking, have you seen an increase in membership or
are you already quite solid in terms of membership?
JM: We are quite
solid, particularly in Coventry HRMC with about 90% union density. We have had
a few members cross the picket and murmur that as they had principles they
might come out of the union, but if they had principles, they would have obeyed
the democratic result of the ballot. So we might lose a few members like that,
but on the other hand we have had a few people crossing who have taken leaflets
and talked of rejoining. So what we lose on the swings, we will regain on the
DC: That is brilliant. Thanks very much indeed.
Coventry. 8am. Tuesday, March 9th, 2010.