On 5 November 2004 the left-led civil service union PCS held a national one-day strike over New Labour’s decision to cut 100,000 civil service jobs. The strike was also officially over the refusal of the government to move towards national pay bargaining.
(The civil service and related bodies are divided into some 200 “delegated bargaining units”). Some eight months on, there has been no further national action of any sort.
In the meantime the New Labour jobs thresher has rolled on and the Government has sucessfully resisted any moves to return to national pay bargaining and national pay rates.
Supporters of AWL and the PCS left group Socialist Caucus have continually but unsuccessfully argued for a serious national campaign that properly links the critical issues of pay, jobs, and pensions.
As things stand, therefore, the Socialist Caucus-led London Regional Committee of the Department of Work and Pensions is the only major part of PCS that has been seeking to ballot for action over job loss and relocation. Having one part of PCS fighting alone on jobs is not something we would choose, but it is the result of both the National Executive and the DWP Group Executive failing to lead the campaign.
Although the DWP London Regional Committee has been seeking permission to ballot for some months now, it has so far failed to obtain the go-ahead from head office. The delay is seriously jeopardising both the prospects of winning any eventual ballot and of any eventual dispute.
The longer the national leadership prevents the ballot from going ahead, the more the job losses in London will have been decided, by default, in the government’s favour.
A recent bulletin issued by the Socialist Caucus set the issues out very clearly:
“When is the ballot?... The answer is, who knows! The London submission has been supported by the Executive Committee and the [National Disputes Committee]. General Secretary Serwotka informed [our] conference that the union was fully supporting the submission. Prior to conference a timetable had been agreed. The ballot would begin two weeks following conference once all the workplace meetings had been completed. Branches were asked to identify offices that were prepared to go out for further action of between two to four days in addition to the London wide discontinuous action.
“NEC, branch and London Regional officials spoke at car park meetings all over London. Offices were identified, and indicative votes taken.... Yet we are no nearer forward in terms of the ballot and do not appear to have a timetable for when the ballot is due to go ahead.
“Apparently further ‘talks’ now have to take place with national management before the ballot can begin. These ‘talks’ were due on 7 July... However, the ‘talks’ were not with DWP national management, but Jobcentre Plus London Regional management and one national Jobcentre Plus manager.
“One of the demands from London is to retain work in parts of London where members will struggle to find alternative posts, and for a proper staffing model for offices in order to ensure that there are sufficient staff to run a decent service. This would require challenging the planned 2000 job cuts (1000 in Job Centre Plus) that management want to achieve in London by March 2006.
“Due to the length of time it has taken to get the submission agreed, let alone get the ballot started, management have now relocated the remaining benefit processing work from west and north west London to Glasgow and Belfast, declared members surplus, intend to move towards compulsory transfers, and are conducting one to one interviews with staff in various parts of London to try force them to move to other offices or harass them into applying for jobs in other Government departments.
“Yet the position of certain elements on the NEC is not to ballot until ‘talks’ with the employer are completed — even though they haven’t actually started yet! Obviously the employer is quite happy to talk with the union for as long as possible, particularly as they are not under any pressure and are therefore able to cut jobs and talk at the same time…
“In the meantime members and activists are becoming increasingly frustrated and angry with the lack of resistance by the union in the face of such serious attacks. And it is not just in London where this frustration is being felt.
“...Members all over the country are finding themselves in the same position as members in London.
“...The NEC needs to start pumping out material about what is going on around the country in terms of the effects of the cuts on the membership and the public and agitating for a fightback…London Region wants to defend jobs in the here and now. Every delay just means further job losses. Therefore lets begin the ballot now. By taking such action management will either begin talks in earnest to head off industrial action or their offer of talks will be shown to be hollow. Either way the current phoney war has to end.”