Workers in Job Centres and Social Security offices across London are set to strike in July against the Government’s plan for drastic job cuts. The call comes from the London regional committee for the Department of Work and Pensions of the civil service union PCS.
The 5 November 2004 strike action by PCS members across the civil service, over job cuts, pensions and pay was a magnificent show of solidarity and strength. However the 5 November ballot was for a one day strike only. The ballot did not call for discontinuous action by members and the campaign soon lost most of its momentum. One of the main reasons for this was the decision taken by the left led National Executive to devolve decisions about further strike action over job cuts down to individual departmental executives rather than call for further civil service wide action. This resulted in a state of semi paralysis within PCS, made worse by the National Executive decision to call off the 23 March strike, which despite some reference to job cuts and pay, was claimed to be primarily about threats to the civil service pension scheme. By pitching the emphasis on pensions, the job cuts campaign appeared by many activists to be over.
Since the Brown budget announcement last year, the DWP has cut over 11,000 jobs out of the planned 30,000.The Socialist Party dominated DWP executive, some of whose members also sit on the National Executive, have failed to develop a national DWP wide industrial action strategy to deal with it. Individual Branches and Regions have had to come up with their own strategy to at least get the ball rolling and develop some kind of fight back.
Following the 23 March climb down by the union, the DWP PCS London Regional Committee passed a motion calling for London wide action against the cuts. Initially this was not a unanimous vote by all Branches,as some preferred national strike action. Information became available of the sheer size of the cuts across London, (over 2000 + jobs to go between now and March 2006 out of a total of 12,000 and in the absence of a national campaign), and all Branches eventually agreed to support the call for action.
The primary movers of the strike call were members of the PCS Socialist Caucus group. The Caucus members on the DWP Group Executive had been arguing for a broad based campaign over job cuts and pay for several months. However this was not supported by the dominant Socialist Party, whose members prefer the staged compartmentalised approach to industrial action. It was pecisely this attitude that had led to the calling off of a year long DWP pay dispute at the beginning of this year. The strike submission from London over the job cuts will be the first submission the union has actually received from any Branch or region across the county. There is an urgent need for the action to be a success.
The London demands are for the retention of DWP work in parts of London where work is planned for relocation. It is also for a transparent staffing basis scheme in local offices. This is an important demand as the cuts will, if they go ahead in their entirety, damage local services. The other key demand is for equality proofing of the proposed job cuts and office closures. The job cuts will disproportionately affect women (approximately 70% of the DWP workforce are women) and Black and Ethnic Minority staff. (40% of those being affected by the job cuts are BEM members, particularly in London). The campaign also needs to highlight the effect of public sector job cuts of this scale in local communities. Despite popular perception, London is not an economic success story in many parts of the capital. London still experiences some of the highest rates of unemployment in the country. The DWP cuts in London as well as those that will be experienced in other civil service departments will have a damaging effect in many local communities.
The strike action, if it does go ahead, will be for discontinuous and selective action starting with a one day strike in July. But any action in London must act as a spring board for action across the rest of the country and across the rest of the civil service. The experience of members in London is not unique. Job cuts are occurring or planned in every part of country. Only national civil service wide action will have any chance of rolling back the Brown proposals.