PCS members begin a national strike ballot today, against a backdrop of attacks on jobs, pay, and conditions in the civil service. Truss and the Tories have declared war on Whitehall. The unions must mobilise and launch a united fightback.
During her Tory leadership bid, Liz Truss pledged to ‘wage war’ on so-called ‘Whitehall waste’. In concrete terms, this means attacking regional pay, ending paid time-off for union officials, and scrapping roles on diversity and inclusion.
Continuing the crazed plans of her predecessor, Truss is now calling for full steam ahead in slashing 91,000 civil service jobs over the next three years. This is being dressed up as saving the taxpayer £11 billion, and cutting back the supposedly over-bloated Whitehall ‘blob’.
In tandem with these job cuts, the government is planning to sell off £1.5 billion of office space, as announced recently by the Right Honourable Member of Parliament for the 18th Century, and now Tory business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg. In true Victorian style, Rees-Mogg has insisted that cramped, overcrowded workspaces will do for Britain’s civil servants.
Empty vessels make the most noise, however. And everyone can see that the Tories’ promised savings are just repackaged austerity, plain and simple.
In fact, the figure cited by the Tories would only be possible if the proposed cuts were “to be adopted for all public sector workers,” stated Ben Houchen, the disgruntled Tory Mayor for the Tees Valley.
Such proposals could prove a perilous gambit, as the Tories themselves are forced to admit, given the rising tide of discontent.
The backdrop to this slew of attacks is staff shortages, administrative backlogs from the pandemic and in the justice system, and the uncertainty still surrounding Brexit.
In order to distract from their mounting problems, the Tories have attempted to fan the flames of the ‘culture war’ – throwing dust in the eyes of the millions already reeling from the cost-of-living catastrophe.
Backing Truss’ latest attacks, where she accused the civil service of ‘stale groupthink’, Rees-Mogg has taken up the mantle in the so-called ‘war on woke’. He has characterised the training events undertaken by civil servants as divisive, and declared them to be decidedly against ‘British values’.
Why is Liz Truss planning to scrap diversity officers in the civil service?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: “I don’t believe they’re doing anything useful” – it’s a scheme “created by the woke for the woke” #KayBurley #ToryLeadershipRace BH pic.twitter.com/1YTAfmMmen
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) August 2, 2022
We are told that the Tories’ shake-up proposals are required to halt the ‘indoctrination’ of wokeness in Whitehall, and to return money to the taxpayer. We are spoiled for choice as to which one of these claims is more ridiculous.
In the cause of furthering their own careers, it is clear that those in the driving seat of the Tory Party remain firmly committed to picking fights and waging war on everyone, with total disregard for the ruptures this is creating within the state itself.
Indeed, Whitehall is supposed to stay out of the fray of politics. The civil service exists, we are told, to simply fulfil the administrative functions of the ruling party. But whilst this might have been the case in the past, this has become increasingly untenable.
There used to be a very cosy relationship between Whitehall, the Tories, and big business. But under the sheer weight of the crisis affecting every pillar of British society, this has now turned into its opposite.
Big business has lost control over their primary political representatives. Whitehall officials were implicated in the campaign to force Johnson out of office; and the Tories are now telling the tops of the civil service that they are paid too much, and must settle for reduced redundancy.
But frustrations amongst the upper-echelons of Whitehall should be the least of the Tories’ worries. The ferment amongst the low-paid, mostly younger workers in the civil service is beginning to come to the fore.
The Tories’ scandalous Rwanda deportation plan led to furore and the threat of mutiny amongst civil servants, for example, with one writing that it is “unavoidably clear that the things we are now ordered to put into place – from borders to policing to immigration enforcement – are doing real harm to many people”.
This is symptomatic of the mood of those being politicised by the Tories’ attacks, as they intensify their ‘hostile environment’ against the oppressed. And it is these workers that are beginning to organise and mobilise in order to halt the ruling class’ offensive.
In PCS, the union representing civil servants, members are incensed by these proposals.
Reflecting this mood, PCS general secretary Mark Serworka has stated that Truss “will face opposition every step of the way”.
The PCS national strike ballot, which opens on 26 September, must serve as a lightning rod to mobilise members against the Tories’ unrelenting attacks.
Union leaders must make clear that the problems facing civil servants – over jobs, pay, and conditions – are not unique, but are part of the wider offensive by the employers.
In fact, Truss has promised class war, with her threats directed towards the unions. The success of each and every industrial battle ahead, therefore, concerns the entire labour movement.
As the recent RMT and CWU strikes show, workers have had enough, and are prepared to move into action in large numbers and fight back.
PCS must again take up its militant traditions, built through years of struggle against Truss’ idol, Margaret Thatcher.
The Tories are unable to rule as they once did. Clearly, they are not prepared to offer us anything but cuts, privatisations, and hardship. The potential is there, however, for the unions to coordinate as never before in our lifetimes.
A united mass campaign, built around a bold socialist programme, with a one-day public sector strike as its spearhead, could topple this rotten government, and upend its capitalist backers into the bargain.
Workers in the civil service and elsewhere are increasingly looking for a way out. PCS must now pick up the gauntlet and take the fight to the Tories.