Civil service walkouts striking against low pay
THOUSANDS OF NIPSA members in the Social Security and Child Support Agency walked out on unofficial strike action on 5 February. The walkouts were the angry response of staff to letters given out by management threatening the withdrawal of flexible working arrangements and other disciplinary action against those who were taking action in the current pay dispute.
Clearly the CSA and SSA managements thought that their threats would intimidate NIPSA members into breaking the ongoing industrial action.
If this was their intention, they clearly miscalculated. Their threats only hardened the mood and increased support for the one day strike the next day, 6 February, and for the ongoing action.
The civil service dispute is shaping up into a major battle which has big implications for other workers, especially other public sector workers.
This dispute is over quite fundamental issues:
* First and foremost it is a dispute over pay, over the scandalously low wages paid to thousands of civil servants.
* It is also about the right of workers to receive a pay increase. New Labour Ministers are spinning the lie that they have offered 3.67%. In fact, the offer is nil percent - the 3.67% refers to the annual increments which civil servants, like other workers on pay scales, receive.
* It is about the rights of unions to negotiate on behalf of members. The Government has refused to negotiate and has, in fact, imposed their "offer".
* Now, with the latest management threats, it is about the more fundamental right to strike without facing disciplinary action.
* From the Government point of view, it is about dealing a blow to NIPSA so that they can implement their agenda of holding down wages, worsening conditions and of privatisation.
It is important, not just for civil servants but for all workers, that this dispute is won. The Civil Service Executive of NIPSA needs to set out a clear strategy for victory. This must involve bringing out more groups of workers on selective action and for longer periods. Dates need to be set for an escalating programme of strikes beginning with a two day strike as a follow up to 6 December.
If any workers are suspended for taking part in action, including the unofficial walkouts, the whole NIPSA membership should be mobilised in solidarity action.
Other unions, especially those in the public sector, should also give concrete support. Teachers are preparing for industrial action. UK civil servants are also in dispute. These actions should be co-ordinated. If the civil service management continues to act like the SSA and CSA managements a day of action involving the whole of the public service should be called to defend the right to strike and to defend public services from low pay and privatisation.