On Budget Day, 24 March, the civil service union PCS took a third day of strike action over detrimental changes to redundancy and early retirement rights.
Overall this strike seems to have been more solidly supported than a two-day strike on the 8 and 9 May.
Despite the Government’s call to the RMT and Unite unions that they must get around the negotiating table to solve their disputes (with Network Rail and British Airways) they are not following their own advice over our dispute, and have refused further talks.
Therefore the PCS has no choice but to continue its campaign.
Over the General Election period we intend to make “interventions” into the constituencies of Cabinet members.
And on 22-23 April the High Court will hear the union’s case. The essence of it is that members have accrued (banked) redundancy and early retirement rights for each year they have been employed. If this argument were legally accepted then long-serving members of staff would gain substantially. Such a victory would be very important. But new entrants and those with only a few years of service will gain nothing from a legal victory. It is for those members that the union has to win future rights.
But first of all the union must make clear that it is not looking for a two-tier deal. If the Government had offered such a deal last year, then the union, unfortunately, would have accepted it. That is to say, if the Government had offered staff who joined the civil service before 1 June 2007 their existing rights but gave those recruited after that date (and who are in different pension scheme) lesser rights, then PCS would have agreed with this arrangement.
Now we have to be clear that all members must have the same deal; with all members getting the best terms. There must not be a two tier agreement.
This strategy inevitably leads us back to the issue of industrial action. It is highly unlikely that there will be any strike action during the election period. The calculation is that members cannot “afford” more action in the run up to election day.
But the current leadership of the union has no further options with a strike action campaign. They have, as a matter of principle, ruled out selective action. Therefore they have nothing to infill “gaps” between national actions or to continue the action. The rejection of selective action is a gross error. So is the refusal to have a strike levy.
The dispute over redundancy and early retirement rights is just a prelude to a forthcoming and main fight over jobs and pensions.
We have to learn some lessons from the current and past actions. Use of selective action and raising strike funds though a levy are just two of the important points that have to be taken on board.