civil service dispute on ice?

by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

In October the Public and Commercial Services union, representing civil service workers, announced that it is to embark on a three month period of industrial action. This was supposed to commence with a one day all out strike across the civil service on 10th November, followed by an overtime ban and other selective action: however, as we went to press, the 10th November action was cancelled.

The cause of the dispute is the government’s insistence that public sector pay should be held at 2%. Inflation is currently 5% so this effectively means pay cuts for already poorly paid workers. Indeed several civil service departments had to make immediate adjustments to pay rates to account for the rise in the minimum wage!

The PCS’s demands are for a consolidated pay increase at least equal to Retail Price Index; pay progression costs removed from pay budgets, as elsewhere in the public sector; and an end to performance pay and regional pay

The demands are reasonable and would cost the government £300 million – far less than dished out to rich bankers of course.

Taking action, however, presents a big challenge for PCS. The vote for strike action was very close, partly because of fear of the recession but also because the usual tactic of a one day strike was rolled out.

Furthermore, PCS is looking for co-ordinated action with other unions, particularly the National Union of Teachers, which balloted its members in early November. However the NUT vote only saw a slim ’yes’ majority on a low turnout and so teachers are not set to take strike action.

PCS can win this struggle. Co-ordinated action with other unions would be helpful but there has to be real thought given to the tactics used.

Members will want a clear view of where the union is going. There must be a clear determination by the Left-led NEC to see the dispute through. Recently this has not always been the case, with a number of actions postponed or called off at the last minute.

The overtime ban will need to be enforced with pickets and targeted leaflets. Finally in a strike scenario real thought will need to be given to taking out key areas – this should not be difficult as members in many areas are already simmering with discontent over attacks on flexitime, job losses and LEAN working practices.

The key however will be the area committees present in many towns and cities. These MUST be revamped as
strike committees and given some autonomy to act and react locally to the actions. This would be preparing propaganda, keeping members solid by actively involving them in the action, linking with other activists both inside and outside of PCS and most of all holding the leadership to account as the dispute progresses.

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