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Strike threat forces negotiations in civil service pay battle
OVER 5,000 members have been recruited to civil service union PCS since our pay campaign started. It has inspired a new layer of members and activists. Members see their willingness to take action has forced management to make concessions.
[Since this article was written negotiations broke down and on Friday 6 February the strike was back on]
Rob Williams, PCS National Executive (NEC), personal capacity
But managementís offer to the Group Executive Committee (GEC) of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) two days before the strike, was conditional on action being called off in that department. The GEC saw the offer was not good enough to settle on but it could not be dismissed. It was obvious that if the GEC pressed ahead with the strike, management would have told members and the public, that we were hell-bent on striking no matter what and unwilling to negotiate. Management wanted to sow division amongst the membership.
The Left Unity-led GEC decided to suspend the action for two weeks. This gave us the opportunity for detailed negotiations on the hated Performance and Development System (PDS) and to squeeze every last penny out of management.
PDS is a system which links the annual pay increase to a discriminatory performance mark decided in secret by a panel of managers.
DWP management had previously provoked membersí fury by attempting to introduce a discriminatory five-day rule, which would have docked pay for any special leave above five days, such as for sickness, bereavement leave, study leave and even maternity leave. They also imposed a below-inflation pay rise to those on the maximum of the pay scale - in real terms amounting to a pay cut.
Management were forced to withdraw the five-day rule when members voted to reject the offer. They then made another offer at the 11th hour, under the threat of strike action.
The GEC will push the negotiations onto the open stage, to expose the managementís tactics. At the end of two weeks, there will either be enough concessions to ballot members on or strike action will be called.
Concessions have already been extracted. This is a significant gain from the position of an imposed pay offer.
Members have found that the threat of industrial action is a powerful tool against the employer and this new-found confidence is a valuable for those previously hesitant and some bruised by previous defeats.
The NEC worked hard to co ordinate action across departments. Clearly the left-led GEC had to take into account the effect of not striking with the other departments. But pressing ahead with the strike would have allowed management to say the union had ignored fresh talks and an improved offer.
Nothing demonstrates more clearly the need for national pay bargaining for the whole civil service. This is the major campaign of the Left Unity-led NEC for 2004.
+The DWP Left Unity conference on 31 January discussed pay and the programme for the coming year. Delegates voted to endorse the GECís strategy on pay. All the Socialist Party members standing were re-elected to stand for the GEC as Left Unity candidates.
Strong support for civil service strike
MARK SERWOTKA, Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) general secretary spoke to a 300-strong civil servants' pay rally on 29 January. Having gone round the picket lines that morning, he said it was clear that their two-day strike had widespread support.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party industrial organiser
The strike involved workers from the courts, the Home Office, the Prison Service and the Treasury Solicitors.
He told them: "Civil servants are some of the lowest-paid in the land with 25% on no more than £13,750, 41% on £15,775 and 81% on less than the europoean union decency threshold."
He reported that at the Royal Courts of Justice, a Group Four prison van was held up with the prisoners inside for over an hour. The pickets demanded that this be taken off their time in prison! In Shoreditch, postal workers and a number of casual workers refused to cross the picket lines."
As a result of the workers' action the Department for Constitutional Affairs have asked for talks, starting on 2 February.
Mark outlined the situation in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and why the strike there had been suspended: "The DWP are the worst management in the civil service."
They had refused talks before and had imposed a below-inflation pay increase and a divisive performance scheme. The threat of action forced them to the negotiating table on the eve of the strike. "The offer is not good enough and the strike remains live if there is no improvement over the next fortnight".
He realised the workers who were on strike were disappointed that the 90,000 PCS members in the DWP were not on strike with them: "But it is inevitable if there is to be any talks."
Later on, Tom Taylor of the PCS DWP Group Executive (GEC) explained more to a carefully listening audience: "The issue in the DWP was not just pay but more importantly the full-blown performance appraisal system that management have imposed. It makes 70% of the members worse off. There was bigger vote against this than there was against the imposed pay increase.
"We were told at 3pm on the eve of the strike that the management wanted talks and were suspending the performance system.
"The new offers are unacceptable and if there is no movement we will set the strike dates again."
Mark in his summing up said: "If the union had rejected the talks then the management would undoubtedly have publicised this amongst the membership."
In The Socialist 7 February 2004:
War and occupation
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis