In the first half of 2011 we face mass compulsory redundancies. Our union cannot sit through these attacks. Our slogan has to be: defend pensions and employment.
It now seems likely that the leadership of the PCS civil service workers' union is gearing itself up for a ballot on pensions in April next year.
How that fits in with the plan of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to have strike action in March 2011 we shall see. It would not be the first time if the two unions failed to co-ordinate action at roughly the same time over the same issue.
Assume, though, that NUT and PCS will agree on common dates for ballots and action(s). The interesting question is whether UNISON will join in. At the moment there is no indication that they will.
Clearly pensions must be defended. John Hutton’s report means higher contributions from members. In fact, the unions, in their 2005 agreement with the then New Labour government, agreed that higher contributions would be paid if pension costs rose above an agreed amount).
It also means a pension age of 65 (in 2005 the unions agreed that 65 would be the pension age for new entrants, while older workers could still get pensions at 60: the proposals that the union will resist are proposals that the union accepted for all new staff entering the civil service from 2007 onwards).
Hutton is also looking at a fundamental re-structuring of pension schemes.
But if you haven’t a job, then future increases in pension contributions are academic.
According to the Guardian (3 November): “Ministers have already earmarked more than 100,000 civil service posts to be cut as the government sets about reducing its administration costs by a third”.
We are expecting an announcement that 14,000 staff in the Ministry of Justice will be cut. We know that 25,000 jobs will go in the Ministry of Defence.
Many of these cuts have been “front-loaded”; that is programmed for the first two years of the current four year spending period. Such front-loading greatly increases the risk of compulsory redundancies.
The first mass compulsory redundancies will probably occur in the Government Offices (GOs), the network of offices that handles cross-departmental work in the English regions.
We expect the 90 day consultation period over compulsory redundancies in the Government Offices to begin in the next few days. In total 1,300 staff are "surplus" in the GOs, and the government is prepared to make all of them compulsorily redundant.
The PCS has not reacted accordingly. The dispute which the union leadership is considering will focus primarily on pensions.
The PCS leadership believes that the pensions issue unifies all civil servants and all workers in the public sector, whereas the job cuts are unevenly spread across departments and across time.
But a trade union should serve its members on the basic issue of jobs, and not subordinate that to the union leaders' calculations of strategic neatness.
PCS members should be consulted now on action over job cuts. Job cuts should be given equal billing with pensions in all union literature to pensions. PCS should argue with the other public service unions that job cuts - whether through redundancies or through outsourcing, etc., are also an issue that unites us all.