DVLA: who controls? (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 11 May, 2021 - 5:30 Author: John Moloney
DVLA strike

Workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea struck again from 4-8 May. The strike was very successful, and built on the previous strike. Our picture is that more workers participated this time, so it’s good to see the strike is growing. The call centre, which is a key part of the complex, had more people striking than last time.

The workers want to strike again, so the union will announce further dates soon. After that we are looking at ongoing selective action, with rolling strikes across different parts of the complex, aimed at maximising impact.

The dispute is being led by the branch. As Assistant General Secretary, I attend, in an auxiliary role, various meetings related to the dispute, but this is not a matter of senior union officials giving orders to a passive stage army of members. The branch is the key active element. This is essential to building fighting, rank-and-file trade unionism: leadership and decision-making has to be as close to the workplace as possible. This active leadership from below has allowed the union to be bold, calling two sets of four-day strikes so far, with the aim being to win, not to just protest.

Negotiations with the employer are conducted by a small team involving officials and a rank-and-file lay rep, who report back to meetings of members and the Branch Executive Committee (BEC). The members and the BEC aren’t passive consumers in this dispute; they engage critically with the reports backs. Plans for the next steps in dispute are formulated on the basis of the BEC discussions and reactions of members. No proposed settlement will be accepted without a vote of all the members affected.

Covid safety has been the trigger, but beyond the immediate dispute the key matter that will increasingly be posed are much wider questions about how the workplace is run. It sounds grandiose, but in a very real and direct sense it poses the class question, the question of political economy: is the workplace run under the total command and control of the bosses, or do workers, through elected representatives in their recognised union, have a say?

Whilst a bit player in the running of the dispute itself I’m more centrally involved in developing a parallel aspect of the campaign in DVLA, which is a legal challenge about its sickness policy, which we believe is discriminatory. On Monday 10 May I’ll also lead a meeting to discuss how we can practically support another legal challenge, being pursued by the United Voices of the World union, about the potentially discriminatory impact of outsourcing in Royal Parks, where we organise the directly-employed workers.

In the Department for Work and Pensions, consultative ballots about potential action over Covid safety are ongoing. The union’s National Executive Committee results are due to be announced next week; as I stood as the Assistant General Secretary candidate from the Independent Left, I’m of course hoping for good results for the candidates of the Independent Left.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS (writing in personal capacity)

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