Civil Service: build for selective action!

Submitted by cathy n on 13 August, 2007 - 2:47

Civil Service: build selective action

By a PCS member

THE civil service union PCS and the postal workers’ union CWU have separate national disputes over low pay, below inflation pay offers, massive job losses, and privatisation/outsourcing. Despite national action by both unions it is clear that the Brown Government has no intention of making any meaningful concessions to either union.

Right now the Treasury is clearing the annual pay settlements for the myriad devolved civil service bargaining units. All are guaranteed to mean civil servants receiving less than the rate of inflation in 2007. Members in DTI have been served notice of compulsory redundancies. “Meaningful consultation”, the statutory 90 day period prior to declaring compulsory redundancies, has been entered into in DWP, DEFRA and FCO, affecting hundreds of PCS members.

CWU Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward was right to say that “if Gordon Brown, John Hutton and other members of the Government will not put pressure on Royal Mail management to negotiate that must mean they are backing them 100%.” The fact is the Government is essentially the “single shareholder” and has pushed “liberalisation” of the postal services further and faster than other EU countries knowing full well that will eventually break up the universal postal service, drive down wages, and cost jobs.

Two unions in national dispute over remarkably similar issues. Yet, to date the unions have not issued an unequivocal statement they will be coordinating their future industrial action.

On 14 June, at a public meeting in London, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka stated that he had agreed with Billy Hayes and Dave Ward of the CWU that, if the PCS and CWU disputes remain unresolved, they would publicly announce that they would meet together to examine how they might coordinate action.

On 29 June Mark Serwotka wrote to Billy Hayes offering solidarity to CWU members, “Together we are stronger and I look forward to meeting you… to discuss how we can campaign together on these issues of common cause.”

PCS and CWU activists should pressurise their respective union leaderships to announce unequivocal plans that will ensure that “together we are stronger” is a fighting slogan that will defend members of both unions. Minimally the would-be-Marxist-led PCS should announce that at least some of its action will coincide with that of the CWU.

The PCS has launched what they describe as “…the widest consultation in the union’s history, giving members the chance to have their say on the next steps of the campaign…”

PCS activists should be arguing for public sector trade union unity but for PCS in any case to take further industrial action including:
• Further national action;
• ‘Targeted action”, coordinating areas in local dispute;

• A voluntary national levy and full strike pay to support selective industrial action i.e. the union to take out key workers to further hurt the employer.

Clearly the Government does not feel sufficiently deterred by national two one day strikes in six months. Unfortunately the union leadership, including the Socialist Party and SWP Executive members, is very hostile to the whole notion of selective action and rules it out on principle.

The “Independent Left” in PCS however sees a role for selective action. We want as much mass action as possible. However, whilst the leadership’s standard practice is to have a day of national action then let several months elapse before the next, we want to fill the gaps with action that hurts the employer. Selective action fits that bill.

Selective action means taking out key offices/sections for short periods, long enough to hurt, short enough to prevent the employer setting up a mechanism to work around the action. We do not advocate taking out one workplace for months on end, and irrespective of its strategic position — a failed tactic tried in the past by the leaders of the Executive.
Yet the PCS leadership counterposes selective action to national action, as if they are incompatible. They argue it will cost too much money and be sat out and worked around by the employer.

The Executive have the memory of a dispute in the DWP over the introduction of screen firmly imprinted on their mind. Individual DWP offices struck for extended periods, without a proper judgement of their strategic position in the work process, and spent over £7 million. Instead of learning lessons from the DEFRA selective action pay campaign of a few years ago (which the dominant political forces on the Executive had no responsibility for and which was won), the NEC leadership counter-poses a negative experience. The proposal is to call out strategically placed members in a “hit and run” campaign linked to national and targeted action to prevent a sense of isolation. Of course selective action will cost money but then the NEC should have instituted an all members’ voluntary levy.

If selective action is not to be allowed then the PCS campaign will need a great deal more national action, and more frequently, to win our just demands on jobs, pay and services. However the leadership does not believe it is capable of delivering that level of national action. Such a judgement is not unreasonable — it has to be based on the feedback from membership meetings. But dogmatically ruling out selective action is a mistake members should call on the Executive to rectify.

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