Outsourced workers at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) began a five day strike from 17 June, immediately following an outsourced workers’ strike at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (F&CO). Both strikes have had exceptionally lively picket lines.
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, walked past the F&CO picket and naturally strikers and supporters took the opportunity to make him aware of the issues, politely and diplomatically, of course. The following day, Hunt wrote to Interserve, the contractor which employs outsourced workers in the F&CO, to press them to resolve the dispute! This may be the only instance of a Tory party leadership candidate expressing any support whatsoever for a strike.
We also saw an excellent gesture of solidarity from an Usdaw rep, driving a super market delivery van, who refused to cross the picket line, meaning managerial staff from the F&CO had to come out to carry their groceries inside.
Interestingly we also saw that the agency workers hired at the F&CO to cover strikers’ work (which is in fact illegal, but outsourced employers often use loopholes to get around the legal restriction) were mainly white English people. This turns the nationalist myth about migrant workers undercutting British workers’ wages and conditions on its head; here we see a predominantly migrant workforce, fighting for better pay and conditions, seeing their employer use “local” labour to try to undermine their strike!
In both the BEIS and F&CO disputes, PCS has rightly taken the decision to pay full strike pay. A union’s fundamental role is to enable its members to take direct action against their boss so this is an important and necessary step. We need to extend that commitment, and fundraise as much as necessary to sustain it.
I’m convening a meeting of PCS reps from across the Whitehall estate to discuss how the union as a whole can support the BEIS and F&CO disputes, but also to talk about what we can to do spread the organisation and action of outsourced workers to other departments.
The PCS National Executive Committee meeting in July will discuss the union’s strategy for the pay campaign for directly-employed civil servants. Our Annual Delegate Conference recently voted for a proposal that we should have a further national ballot, having narrowly missed the thresholds on the last one, so the NEC will discuss possible timetables and strategies for that. I’m also looking to meet with PCS reps and activists to discuss developing our environmental activity, which will be one of my responsibilities as Assistant General Secretary.
The union has good policy on these issues, which we need to develop into activity. I’m particularly keen to discuss how we can use environmental issues as organising and recruitment tools in the workplace, especially amongst young workers.