Article from the Oct 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Special conference needed to discuss:

Lessons of the civil service dispute

THE CIVIL Service Pay dispute has ended on a low note. With a failure to win any pay increase for 2003 and the acceptance of a derisory 16 month pay offer for 2004, NIPSA members are now calculating the costs of what losing the dispute has meant for them and asking questions about who is to blame.

By Carol Barnett NIPSA General Council member (personal capacity)

From the outset of the dispute, it became apparent that right wing members on the Civil Service Group Executive were not willing to take members out on all out strike action. Ignoring the majority vote for strike action, the Executive concentrated instead on selective action, lunch time rallies and one day strikes.

Whilst these strategies are useful to a certain extent, it was clear from the mood of the government that it was going to take something more forceful to change their minds. It was also clear from talking to members at ground level that they knew this and knew that the only way to win the dispute was to take all out strike action.

The Civil Service Executive, who were responsible for running the dispute failed to show strong leadership. After the initial successful strike day held last December, it was a further two months before the next strike day.

This delay meant that the Executive failed to seize the momentum that had gathered and their lack of action created confusion about where the dispute was going. Despite this, when management started clamping down on members which resulted in members walking out, it was evident that members were still confident and determined to take strong action.

When it became clear even to the union Executive that the selective action strategy was failing to achieve any results, it was agreed that all out action was needed to win the dispute, as the left Time for Change group had argued!! Members were then balloted at branch meetings.

Although the ballot gave a slim majority against going out on all out strike action (51%), it was evident from the results that many of the right wing Executive members had not properly argued the case for action. In DSD, where Time for Change members led the action, 61% voted to go out on all out action.

Understandably, many members are angry about how the dispute was handled. Concerns which were raised previously about the effectiveness of using selective action and the need to involve the majority of the members were ignored by the CSGE at a high price.

NIPSA needs to draw the lessons of this dispute. A special conference should be immediately held to address these questions. Members should now call for a special conference at their branch meetings and ensure that the Civil Service Group Executive are asked to examine the decisions they took and why they failed to listen to their members.

Earlier reports on the NIPSA - Civil Service/Government dispute


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