Civil service pay dispute

step up the action!

ON 11 December NIPSA members across the Northern Ireland Civil Service supported the one day strike in their thousands. Belfast, Derry, Portadown, Ballymena, Strabane, Omagh and Enniskillen all witnessed picket lines and saw the whole service effectively closed down.

While management as usual tried to play down the numbers involved to 12,000 or 47% the reality was up to 90% and over 20,000 members struck on the day.

By Paul Dale, NIPSA Civil Service Executive Member (personal capacity)

Workplaces which didn't have reps before the strike had picket lines manned. In others non members joined and went straight on the picket line, elsewhere buildings were locked all day and still pickets stood outside. The local press in Fermanagh said they had never seen any government building 100% solid in a strike before. Town after town witnessed the same scenes.

The march from Castlecourt round to the strike rally at Transport House in Belfast was 300 strong and accompanied by 10 firefighters in an act of solidarity that was appreciated. Organised by Time for Change activists including Socialist Party members, this set the tone for the rally.

A substantial crowd of NIPSA strikers parading from Castle Court to a meeting in Tranport house. They were joined by 10 members of the FBU expressing solidarity.

However while this was an excellent start to the campaign against a pay offer that is effectively a pay cut, it is only a start. The Executive Committee which meets on 12 January will discuss further ways to escalate the action. The overtime ban and work to rule are already in place. Selective action will be considered in those workplaces where we can maximize the effect on the service provided by NIPSA members.

Regional action will also be considered where all the NIPSA members in the Civil Service will be called out for stoppages lasting hours on a town by town or county by county basis. These are imaginative forms of action which are to be welcomed. However on their own these do not constitute an escalation in the eyes of many members. The key tactic to escalate this dispute is the calling of more days of strike action across the whole Civil Service.

The case for further days is even stronger now. Northern Ireland Office department staff are now in a pay dispute of their own. They have returned a ballot in favour of industrial action.

The Department of Pensions and Work in Britain organized by the PCS are balloting 100,000 members for a two day strike in January. NIPSA should call strikes to coincide with these.

The strongest argument for further strike days however is the fact that the New Labour Ministers are prepared to sit out the work to rule and overtime ban.

To win the dispute the union must drive home the initiative while the mood is there and force the Government to back down. In refusing a cost of living rise to NI Civil Servants and effectively imposing a pay cut New Labour were attempting to undermine NIPSA as an effective union.

NIPSA must rise and answer that challenge.

Industrial/trade union reports are listed here while ones specifically on NIPSA are listed here.

This article is from the January 2004 edition of Socialist Voice. Back issues are available here.