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Passport staff strike
PCS Passport workers on strike in Belfast, photo Peter Hadden
Workers at the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) were out on a three-day strike from 23-25 July. Elaine Brunskill reports from the Durham office.
The mood of the strikers was very buoyant. With their banner flying, and plenty of placards and leaflets to hand out, they had a very clear presence. All the entrances of the office were covered by PCS pickets.
The IPS are proposing an array of attacks on workers' pay and conditions. The proposals also include massive cuts in staff numbers - which would result in no IPS service across the whole of Scotland. They are also looking at the possibility of privatising the counters where passport applications are made.
Ian Urwin, PCS Northern branch secretary of IPS told The Socialist that the restructuring that is being proposed would result in 130 staff in Glasgow being made redundant. Management want to introduce league tables: "League tables haven't worked in schools or hospitals. Why do they think it will work here?" he said.
Another issue is pay. Ian told us that: "Staff that are longest serving in the building haven't had a pay rise for five years. This has the knock on effect of devaluing people's pensions."
Another striker, Aurelia Smith, explained that the documents they produce are very important, however: "We're not treated accordingly. Our pay and conditions are being eroded, a quarter of civil servants earn under £14,500 a year."
Strikers told us that the strike was solid and most of those who had crossed the picket line were managers.
As I left the picket line Ian Urwin said: "All of our members made it clear they wanted a multiple day strike, some were arguing for a week! "
"Fighting for our future" in Belfast
PCS passport workers on strike in Belfast, holding up Socialist Party leaflet, photo by Peter Hadden
In Belfast the action was solid. On the first morning there were about fifteen pickets. With only a handful of managers passing, the office was deserted and remained deserted for the three days of the strike.
An Ulster Television crew who turned up on the first morning interviewed the strikers and then waited to interview members of the public going to use the office. They waited... after a couple of hours they managed to find two people to speak to.
Postal workers refused to pass the picket, so managers had to go off in taxis to collect the mail. Almost every council refuse vehicle that passed hooted loudly as local government workers, just back to work after their two-day strike, showed their support.
On the picket line, Craig McAllister, told The Socialist: "We're here to protect our jobs and also to defend the service. There is no way that we will be able to keep up the service to the public if the cuts the government are trying to impose go ahead. They have already started to impose cuts in Glasgow. Next time it could be us."
Stephen Farrelly, the local rep for PCS, commented: "Our management are trying to impose massive cuts including the closure of offices. That's why we are here; we are fighting for our future. If they don't take notice we will be back with further action."
There was support for the idea of a local shop stewards' network and strikers have agreed to propose that PCS in Northern Ireland back this idea.
Newport: Striking against privatisation, cuts and low pay
Anne-Louise McKeon-Williams a PCS group executive member based in Newport, spoke to Katrine Williams, PCS DWP Wales secretary.
"There was an excellent turnout of members at the Newport passport office in South Wales with ten pickets out on the first day and a positive mood amongst reps on all three days.
About three quarters of PCS members in the Newport office are on the maximum of their pay scales (the rate for the job) and they are receiving no pay increase - for some members this is their fifth year without a pay increase.
All these members will receive is a £200 non-consolidated bonus which is divided over three years - £150 last year, nothing this year and £50 due in the third year of this imposed pay offer.
This is especially galling when the chief executive got a 8.68% pay rise on his £150,000 pay as well as other bonuses and an £11,000 tax free travel allowance which probably all came to about £30,000 this year.
The other major concern is the uncertainty of whether this office will remain open.
Although the original 'restructuring' announcement was due in May, management have delayed and now say it will be made at the end of September or October.
They are probably keen to drive as much work as possible out of PCS members over the busy summer period. But the uncertainty is having a massive effect, worsening morale.
Working conditions are bad in this office with constant monitoring of members and a target-driven culture.
Privatisation is also a major threat with the private sector queuing up for lucrative contracts to introduce ID cards and take over some of the passport office work.
Every privatisation in the civil service has been a disaster and the potential for sensitive data getting in the wrong hands would increase if the private sector got their hands on this work.
PCS members in Newport have received a lot of support from the public and good coverage in the media."
(Both spoke in a personal capacity)
Support builds in Central London
In central London, the number of union members actively involved in the strike was markedly larger than last time they were out.
Even on the third morning, new workers were turning back from the picket lines and signing up to the union. Discussing with workers on the picket lines, it became clear why this was the case.
One striker who had only just joined the union had recently applied for leave to attend a family member's funeral. Management refused!
These sort of draconian managerial practices are commonplace now throughout the civil service and for many out on strike it was as much about this as about challenging Brown's pay freeze.
If management get their way, the Passport Service will be savaged. The approach of the PCS in grouping together these issues and balloting over pay, conditions and cuts rather than on each issue separately helped maximize support for action.
One rep at the passport office told us how TV cameras had been desperately trying to find a member of the public who would condemn the strike for their news report. Strikers were delighted that even the right-wing union-bashing Daily Mail had been forced to reflect a general mood of sympathy for such action and gave fairly positive coverage of the dispute.
It seems clear to everyone that their demands are perfectly reasonable and that the strike was also about defending services in the public's interest.
This was similar to the previous week's strike of local government workers and all of the PCS members that we spoke to thought co-ordinated joint action is the way forward.
In The Socialist 31 July 2008:
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