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Mood hardens in PCS dispute

Nick Bird
PCS Assistant Secretary, Norfolk & Suffolk DWP Branch

 
Tens of thousands of PCS members in the Department for Work and Pensions took part in a two day strike on 29 and 30 July. This was our third strike in a long running and increasingly bitter dispute over pay and a discriminatory performance system. News of massive job cuts in the civil service has only fuelled workers' anger.
 
Nationally, the union has reported increased support for the action and this was certainly the case in my office, with significantly more members responding to the call. Recruitment is also at record levels - I was handed nine membership applications in the three days before the strike alone, and across the DWP 14,000 new members have signed up.
 
One indication of the state of relations in the DWP was the result of a membership ballot on the DWP Executive Team. 97.7 percent recorded a verdict of no confidence in the eight people who between them are paid over 1 million. Indeed, the only surprise was that 2.3 percent of members do have any confidence in senior management.
 
In addition to the strike action, the PCS organised a lobby of Parliament on 14 July and is pursuing High Court action against management's new PDS system which has seen thousands of staff fuming at the arbitrary quotas that are used to measure performance and award bonus payments.
 
In a worrying development, East London branch secretary Charlie McDonald has been accused by management of serious misconduct during the strike, a charge which can lead to dismissal. The PCS has issued a statement calling this a "serious and conscious attack on a senior union official" and has agreed in principle to ballot members in East London for action. It is vital that the union takes all possible steps to defend activists from this sort of intimidation.
 
What of the future of the dispute? The PCS leadership has indicated that further strikes are possible if the DWP does not address our concerns in the current pay talks and there is now the parallel issue of the jobs massacre which could see compulsory redundancies and will blow a hole in the provision of public services.
 
This is a battle that the PCS will fight hard but should not be left to fight alone. All unions representing public sector workers need to coordinate a response to defend jobs, pensions and services, because if the Government breaks the PCS then you can be sure it will already be lining up its next victim.
 

 

August 2004

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