Article from the Nov 2004 edition, the Socialist
200,000 civil servants strike to save jobs in first all-civil service strike since 1993
OVER 200,000 civil servants across Britain went on strike on 5 November, against the government's threat to 104,000 jobs and attacks on pensions, pay and sick leave.
This was the first all-civil service strike since 1993 and a resounding response to these attacks.
After a 1,200-strong demonstration through central London, a packed rally heard PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka warn that if there was any threat of compulsory redundancies the union would take industrial action.
Mark Serwotka warned that if there was any threat of any compulsory redundancy the union would take industrial action. He said: "We will rock the boat as hard as we can to make sure this is a general election issue."
After thanking other unions for their support he said: "If the government do not change tack then all the public-sector unions need to consider millions of us taking action to tell the government to stop robbing our pensions and stop treating public servants with contempt."
Later in the rally in response to questioning from the floor he elaborated on this: "Early in 2005 we want a national one-day strike involving teachers, local-government workers and other public sector-workers."
His remarks were greeted with a huge, prolonged standing ovation.
Strike solid in Northern Ireland
TWO-THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED PCS members in Northern Ireland were involved in the one day strike. CARMEL GATES visited the PCS picket lines and spoke, on behalf of The Socialist, to one of the local organisers, ALISTAIR DONAGHY, Northern Ireland member of the Inland Revenue Group Executive Committee of PCS. Alistair's comments are in a personal capacity.
What are the key issues in this dispute?
The central and most immediate issue is the threat to 100,000 jobs. While the Government claim that jobs will be lost through natural wastage, this is no comfort since the work will still be there with fewer people to do it. PCS members are not faceless bureaucrats. Many are low paid workers providing vital public services. They are responsible for administering Child Benefit and Working Families Tax Credit designed for low income families. Because of low wages, many PCS members are entitled to the benefits they administer.
This so-called Labour government is attacking workers on every front. Even in the worst days of Thatcherism, when the govt tried to cut wages, civil servants could take some comfort from the fact that they had some job security and the possibility of a decent pension. Now that job security is gone and the govt threatening pensions - workers will be working longer and pension benefits are likely to be reduced.
Will the job losses affect the service to the public?
The Government claim that jobs are being cut to put more services to the front line is nonsense. The clear evidence already exists in Britain where Jobcentres and Pension Centres have been closed. Also, the work of the front line and back office cannot be separated. One section cannot function without the other.
We don't yet know how many of the job losses will affect Northern Ireland but if jobs are cut here, so too will services.
Has the strike been a success?
Right across Britain, a conservative estimate is that around 200,000 took strike action. In NI, between 80%-90% of our members came out. The rallies and meetings were very well supported.
At the main rally in Belfast, I spoke for the PCS here. We also had a speaker from NIPSA and Jim Barbour spoke on behalf of the FBU.
What's the next step in the campaign
Friday was the beginning of the campaign, not the end. We now need to build alliances with other public sector workers who are facing same issues. We are not in competition with unions like NIPSA but have to fight together. Also, we need to actively build links with the teaching unions and with Unison, particularly on the pension issue.
As a socialist within PCS, I see the need to build a fighting, democratic leadership for our union. In the last few months PCS membership has been increasing significantly because our union has been prepared to take a stand. A mood of anger and determination to fight back is building.
6,000 local civil service jobs threatened
THE NORTHERN Ireland Civil Service will also be severely hit by New Labour's assault on jobs. Local Ministers wasted no time, once the long pay dispute was out of the way, in announcing job cuts.
by Paul Dale NIPSA Civil Service Executive (personal capacity)
Up to 6,000 jobs are under direct threat. The Government "reform" document "Fit For Purpose" is a charter to close government offices. It states 2,300 jobs will go by 2007/08 but gives no further details.
The areas most under threat should be identified in time for Xmas - Gordon Brown's gift to the public servants who have battled previously against sectarian threats to deliver impartial quality services to the community.
On top of these losses, two major services - Water and Science will transfer out of the Civil Service into a Government Company and a Non Departmental Public Body respectively. Their terms, conditions and even pensions will be privatised.
It doesn't stop there - Personnel functions or Human Resource will see 600 jobs privatised or cut altogether. Other areas are equally under threat to see the total targeted jobs reach 5,900.
And yet the Civil Service shows no sign of overstaffing. Planning is one example where extra staff are being recruited to help deal with increased workloads. Elsewhere admin staff continue to be recruited and specialist grades like veterinary officers have real problems retaining staff because of pay falling so far behind the private sector.
NIPSA is committed to opposing all these attacks but in essence is catching its breath after the 40 week pay dispute. It must now build for industrial action so that when the specific threats are identified it can respond with a programme to defeat Blair and Brown's proposals. That programme should include coordinated action with PCS and the other affected Civil Service unions in Britain.