by a civil servant
The 31 January national strike action by the UK's largest civil service union, the PCS, brought widespread disruption to Government and saw an upbeat and determined mood amongst activists on the picket lines.
The breadth of the action, and membership support, was revealed by:
* The suspension of all Welsh Assembly business;
* In Scotland over 90% of civil servants struck with picket lines at every government office;
* Visitors to London learned of the dispute as the reading rooms at the British Library were closed as were most of the galleries;
* Woolwich Crown Court was forced to close, interrupting the trial over the alleged 2005 London bomb plot;
* At the Inland Revenue the strike hit the last day of filing for self assessment tax returns;
* Strike action by Driving Examiners hit tests all round Britain;
* Large numbers of non-members joined PCS in the run up to the strike - 200 joined in the DVLA.
The union says the membership response was at least as good as in the 2004 national one day strike. That is good because the issues are exceptionally serious and go the heart of the New Labour agenda for the public sector - increasingly Gordon Brown's agenda.
The union is demanding no compulsory redundancies in the face of thousand of government-sponsored redundancies (up to 100,000). The union is also demanding no compulsory relocations of staff as jobs are moved to cheaper areas, principally but not only, out of London and the south east; no more privatisation and outsourcing without negotiations and agreement; a fair national pay system against the carve up of the civil service that sees members divided into some 200 bargaining units with thousands of members on low pay; adequate resources and decent working conditions as the run down in staff numbers is racking up the pressures on remaining staff.
Support for the action, now to be followed by a two week overtime ban, and possible further national and targeted action, should not prevent activists from discussing, in a constructive way, what now needs to be done to win the dispute.
The demands have to be fleshed out and built upon. For instance, "a fair national pay system" is way too vague when we need a return to a national pay system, national pay bargaining, and an end to the wild inequalities in pay between one bargaining unit and another. We need the uprating of all members to the levels enjoyed by the best paid members in their grade - "the rate for the job."
The demand for no compulsory redundancies, whilst right, has proven too limited. Some 20,000 jobs have already gone in DWP alone and the government is increasing the scale of its jobs cull. The policy since 2004 of leaving Groups to deal with jobs cuts within their specific bargaining units has also proved inadequate.
The strategy to win needs to be a whole lot clearer and will need to hit the government very hard indeed if it is to be forced to concede. There needs to be a rational strategy of targeted and selective action to support further national discontinuous action and that should be supported by a national levy. Alongside this must run a political campaign that is not only sharply counterposed to the government's policies but starts to place the weight of the union, and other unions, back on the political scales - to develop a working class alternative to New Labour.