Bosses in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have offered a number of concessions in our ongoing dispute about Job Centre opening hours and arrangements. The union’s Group Executive Committee for the DWP meets on Monday 5 October to consider these concessions and decide the next steps. If the GEC decides the offer isn’t adequate, the dispute will continue and likely move to a formal ballot for industrial action.
We need a comprehensive settlement that covers the whole department, on an indefinite basis. There’s been some suggestion that decisions around opening times and arrangements could be devolved to local managers, but we need a uniform arrangement covering all Job Centres, that remains in place for as long as the pandemic continues. Without that, even if we push the bosses back this time we could be facing a similar crisis in a few months if they make a renewed attempt to extending opening times.
Our members working as driving instructors are also likely to ballot for action, demanding that driving tests are suspended. The proximity in which they work to students simply isn’t safe in the context of rising infection rates. During the first wave, tests were suspended for everyone except key workers who needed to drive for professional reasons, and those were conducted by volunteer instructors, so no-one was compelled to work. We want that situation restored.
The arts and culture sector is one of the epicentres for job cuts, and PCS members working there are hugely affected by that. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London plans redundancies amounting to 10% of its workforce. Our branch there is organising to resist that. At the Tate, our members voted to suspend their strike after the bosses offered improved redundancy terms and firmer guarantees about possible redeployment for staff. Those concessions would not have been secured without the strike, so that’s something our members can be proud of and shows that it’s worth mounting resistance to cuts, but there’s no cause for celebration, as workers are still losing their jobs.
Institutions in this sector are massively reliant on commercial revenues from visitors, which has obviously collapsed during the pandemic. They’re increasingly top heavy, with many museums and galleries having expanded managerial roles and paying senior managers eye-watering salaries.
As well as resisting attacks wherever they come, the labour movement needs its own programme for the crisis, to try to turn defence in attack. In the arts and culture sector that would include demands for increased public funding and a rebalancing away from the top-heavy senior management structure.
More generally, we need bold and ambitious demands around social ownership, requisitioning manufacturing capacity to reorient around social need — such as producing medical equipment and improving testing capacity — and the nationalisation of the track-and-trace programmes currently outsourced to the public sector. We also need to demand full sickness and isolation pay for all workers, regardless of contractual status, as a workers’ right and essential infection control measure.
Winning these demands from a profit-driven Tory government won’t be easy, but the first step is developing and articulating that programme rather than tinkering around the edges of existing policy or making only moderate or timid demands. The “People Before Profit” programme being promoted in the labour movement by activists from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) contains some good policies, but also has some key gaps — such as the demand for public ownership of the banks, the demand for full sickness and isolation pay, specific demands for migrant workers’ rights, and the demand for the repeal of all anti-union and anti-strike laws, to enable workers to take effective action to defend rights and safety.
Such policies, and how we can fight for them, need to be discussed at every level of the labour movement, from workplace groups and branches upwards.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, writing here in a personal capacity.