The Department of Work and Pensions PCS reps' meeting on 6 March discussed the action against the pay freeze. The exec's only proposal was to continue with action short of strike action, and to have a three-day strike after Easter. No strategy to win the dispute was outlined, and no further plans were mentioned. The GEC appears to believe that escalation of the dispute is simply a matter of taking people out on strike for more days than last time.
At the beginning of the meeting some of us successfully made the point that more time had to be given to discussing further strike action. The proposed agenda had set aside an hour at the end of the day to do so. We also said that the meeting should be allowed to make decisions, which the GEC should then follow, but Stella Dennis in the Chair rejected this.
Socialist Caucus members spoke at the meeting, raising the need to develop more disruptive forms of action.
London Region's position of a week of half-day strikes was put forward. This would cause more disruption for management who would be unable to make contingency plans. It would also mean that action could take place over a longer period.
Caucus members stated the need for short term selective action in the Pension Service, presently in a period of crisis trying to get through 2.4 million Pension Credit claims by April. The DWP and the government could be caused serious embarrassment if the organisation gets nowhere near this target. The Pension Centres are large workplaces, many with a lot of new enthusiastic members. Staff are under pressure at the moment and it should be possible to convince them to play a prominent role in the campaign.
We also pointed out that other similar workplaces such as the benefit payment centres could be involved in such selective action. Clearly any such action has to be quite short-term. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the safety dispute. It would also need to be supported by strike pay and/or hardship payments.
On hardship, Caucus made the point that the NEC should give funding to branches to set up hardship funds. The GEC agreed to put out guidance on setting up funds.
There was a discussion about the action short of strike action. Caucus stressed the need for detailed guidance, particularly for staff in Jobcentres, and we were told that guidance would be issued. The GEC's bottom line continues to be that members should do whatever they can up to the point where they may be disciplined.
On PDS we raised the issue of guidance to line managers. Do we want line managers to do reviews on their staff or not? Dave Burke did not come back with a long-term answer. He simply advised that no one should do anything in March but should wait for guidance to come out from April.
Other points were made on the other action but the most important discussion was obviously where we go with further strike action. A number of votes were taken at the end of the meeting.
There was widespread support for selective action, and the GEC agreed to take the issue away and consider it. The meeting voted against a programme of half-day strikes.
On the question of what national strike action we take, reps left the meeting with no clear answer.
By Annette Wright, DWP PCS