By a Civil Servant
On 13 and 14 April tens of thousands of PCS members in the DWP and the Office For National Statistics will be on strike over pay. In the last few months there has been strike action in the Treasury Solicitors, the Courts and the Home Office.
In June 2003 the Treasury clamped down on pay in the civil service and decreed that no pay increase would be worth more than 3.5%. The results of this clamp down are still being played out in 2004 - all the recent strike action concerns last year's pay round!.
The Treasury has made it clear that 2004 will be another year of "pay restraint". That will trigger off further action. The choice that our union, the PCS, faces is whether to continue with local disputes or struggle against the centrally imposed pay cap set by the Treasury.
In the civil service there are 229 different bargaining units. The Treasury sets the pay budgets for these units, sometimes setting individual pay rates. At the same time the Treasury claims that that pay is solely determined by the local management and tells our union that if they have problems with pay they should take it up with local management.
For many years the union has gone along with this fiction. Hopefully no longer.
On 7 April the PCS lodged a national pay claim on behalf of all civil servants; at the same time local versions of this claim were lodged by the local bargaining units.
The union should now act on the logic of its national claim by struggling against the organ grinder of the Treasury rather than the monkeys of the bargaining units. The union should see if a legal industrial action ballot can be run which includes all civil servants and whose target is the Treasury pay budget cap.
This does not mean we let local management off the hook. They could pay our members more. But our target should be those who truly hold the purse strings.
A national ballot would allow the union to run a national campaign and emphasis unity among all our members. The alternative is to fight a number of local disputes where the local management will claim (with some justification) that their hands are tied by the Treasury.
Such a national ballot will allow the local disputes over 2003 pay to merge naturally (unless they get settled meanwhile) into wider action.
On 13 and 14 April, get down to the the picket lines and show solidarity. But civil servants know we must start working towards a national dispute. The Treasury is capping pay nationally. We must respond nationally.