The labour movement needs to assert itself in the current crisis. Whilst being sensitive to what is happening around us, we cannot suspend our struggles and demands. The movement needs to raise big political demands, such as the demand for a complete moratorium on lay-offs and redundancies.
We’re raising that demand with the civil service. We know that the Department for Work and Pensions is about to announce yet more office closures and resultant redundancies. We have made it clear to them that if they don’t back down from that then we’ll be in dispute. Exactly what form that will take in the current circumstances will need discussion and planning, but we will not be suspending the struggle against closures.
PCS is meeting the civil service employer today, 24 March, to put a number of demands to them, including the demand for an immediate pay increase, in recognition of civil servants’ work during the crisis. Civil servants in Scotland have already been offered a 3% pay increase. We’re also demanding increased facility time for our reps, and the scrapping of all restrictions on union activity, so our elected representatives are better able to organise to defend and extend our members’ interests.
In the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, union pressure resulted in an agreement to stop driving tests. If mass testing had not been suspend we would have issued advice to our members that anyone who refused to work on health and safety grounds would be supported by the union. Where employers initially refuse to take precautionary measures to minimise risk, unions should make it clear they’ll support members in taking the necessary steps themselves. In HMRC, the industrial action ballot of our members in the operations centre in Bootle was scuppered by the crisis, with many reps having to take time off work. Unfortunately it didn’t meet the turnout threshold, but it did return a nearly 99% vote for action, which shows the strength of feeling.
That dispute is over local working conditions, and we’ll discuss how best to pursue those demands.
• John Moloney is the Assistant General Secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity