Independent Left congratulates all those activists and members who made May 10th such a success. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the strike was well supported by PCS members, not just in DWP but across the Union. Of course we were never going to meet the high water mark of November 30th with 30 national Unions taking part and mass media coverage. Given the loss of momentum that occurred through the calling off of March 28th – and we think that was a mistake – the support from members was encouraging. PCS members have shown, through their 72% support for continuing the campaign and their willingness to strike, that they are sometimes in advance of the leadership and the reps in the branches. Many will be asking what next and this is a crucial debate we will be having at the national Conference.
We have always said that members were balloted on Pay and Jobs, as well as Pensions. The current dispute has concentrated too much on the Pensions issue. This is because the leadership see this as the glue that keeps our coalition together. We think that bringing in the other issues is important too, one because members have voted for this and two because a pension is no good to you if you don’t have a job and, of course, your pension is based on what you earn. In short pensions are simply deferred pay.
Pay is increasingly becoming the major issue for members as they struggle to make ends meet and cope with increased pension contributions. Since 2005 prices, according to the RPI, have increased by 22.6%. Yet the AO max (national) has only risen by 11.8%. For EOs in the national area it’s even worse. The max has only risen by 6.2%. The government’s pay restraint of capping increases at 1% over the next two years has the potential to unite the public sector unions again.
We have always said that we are in favour of the maximum unity with other unions but not at the cost of PCS fighting on behalf of its members. We have a responsibility to fight, ideally with as many other unions that we can make common cause with, but on our own if needs be.
We need a strategy to win. We don’t think one day strikes punctuated by months of inactivity will win our dispute. Firstly we need as much national action as members can bear but alongside this we need other forms of action, such as overtime bans and paid, selective action in areas that will hurt the employer. We support the immediate launching of a voluntary levy to support this. Secondly we need to have a notion of what we mean by winning.
The GEC needs to launch a campaign against the government’s welfare reform programme which will see even more scapegoating of claimants as well as the privatisation of our jobs. The Government and the management are trying to foster an ‘us and them’ attitude. We should not fall for it. When it comes to workers within DWP and the unemployed workers who use our services we really are all in this together. Whilst DWP denies there are any targets for DMA and sanctions those of us who work I Jobcentres know of the relentless pressure by managers to sanction more and more claimants.
The Coalition have introduced a benefit cap of £26,000 at the same time as scrapping the top rate 50p tax rate. Osborne claimed in the House of Commons that the top rate of tax raised next to nothing for the exchequer. Even if we assume he is correct the same argument can be applied to the benefit cap. Of the millions of people that claim benefits the number of families whose income from benefits exceeds £26,000 a year can be counted in the tens of thousands. In other words it saves next to nothing for the exchequer. The reason for introducing it is ideological. If nothing else exposes the vicious nature of the attack that the working class are facing then it is this. They are determined to make the working, and in some cases middle, classes pay for an economic crisis that we did not create. Public schoolboy bullies kicking the weakest just about sums them up.
This dispute has been dragging on for far too long, with far too little action and far too little concessions from the employer. Our members in Contact Centres need to be treated with respect, and not just by the employer. We have submitted motions to the Group Conference calling on the GEC to urgently re-convene a Contact Centre reps meeting to discuss the campaign and agree the next steps needed to up the pace of industrial action. We would ask delegates to support motions that put this campaign back on track.