Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members in the Department for Work and Pensions will strike on 21 January if a ballot, which closes on 10 January, returns a yes vote.
The immediate context for the ballot is the announcement of 43 compulsory redundancies, but the potential strike comes against a backdrop of a much wider set of attacks against DWP workers. DWP sites, including Job Centres, face cuts, and the automation of various benefits processes also threatens jobs. Workers at the DWP Social Fund also face what the union calls “an uncertain future”, with the Fund due for abolition in April 2013.
A strong turnout, a high yes vote, and a solid strike on 21 January are all essential if the campaign is to maintain momentum and grow. But the union’s strategy is part of a familiar pattern which has not, to say the least, returned many successes.
In our bulletin for the 30 November 2012 civil service day of action, Workers’ Liberty wrote:
“There is a pattern developing in PCS disputes. From a standing start members are balloted on industrial action; a ballot is won, usually on a turnout of below 35%; a one-day strike is announced which may or may not happen; the next action after the one day strike, if there is any at all, takes place months after the first one; in the meantime no real information is given to members as to what is happening; the dispute either fades with no conclusion or it is subsumed into another dispute. This approach has delivered little in concrete gains. We need to be bolder.”
It will take much more than the one-day strike workers are now voting on to stop the attacks. Although the ballot also includes an overtime ban, far more sustained, creative, and diverse action than a tokenistic one-day protest strike is necessary.
Workers’ Liberty members working in the civil service are active in the PCS Independent Left, which has been advocating a strategy based on rolling and selective strikes, with strike pay levied to fund sustained action.