The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) will begin a three-month programme of industrial action, including strikes, on 20 March, when George Osborne announces his budget.
The strikes are against a variety of measures, including attacks on pay, job losses, and pension reforms.
The programme will include both national and sector-specific action, and will combine strikes with other industrial action. In between days of industrial action, the union will organise local protests and campaigning activity around specific themes.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is not a one-day protest, this is the start of a rolling programme of walkouts and disruptive action to put pressure on a government that is refusing to talk to us.”
The strikes were planned after a ballot returned a 61% majority in favour of taking action.
The announcement of an ongoing programme of action is a big step forward from the approach which has become the default for PCS and other unions – a single day of token protest action immediately before, or even after, the management policy against which one is protesting is implemented.
Rank-and-file activists in the union, including the PCS Independent Left grouping in which Workers’ Liberty members are involved, have been advocating for the PCS to adopt such strategies for some time. PCS leaders say the strategy will be reviewed after the first strike. Pressure must be applied to make sure the programme of action is maintained, and escalated if the government offers no concessions.
The strike campaign must also be organised around clear demands. In the past, PCS has not articulated clear industrial demands in disputes, and folded previous disputes into new ones without any satisfactory conclusion to any given dispute on its own terms. Mark Serwotka has talked about the strikes being “against austerity”; certainly, tying the action into wider political opposition to the government’s project is positive. But strikes by civil servants are not, by themselves, going to beat “austerity”.
The campaign must also involve clear, winnable demands over specific industrial issues if members are to remain mobilised.