In the recent ballot in our union, the PCS, ballot we saw huge majorities (around 92%) voting for the principle of a national pay claim for 2004 and to defend existing pension rights.
The ballot turn-out was unfortunately low (just over 21%). The idea of the national claim is that although devolved bargaining will still take place in the civil service's 172 bargaining units, in 2004 the union will lodge the national claim in each and every area.
The pay claim is to be lodged on the same day and this will probably be 1 April. Our claim is likely to be high to take into account the fact that lots of our members are very low paid. The union centre will monitor the bargaining units and ensure there is no straying from the claim and will back up those areas with least resources.
The union's pay campaign will also have a London dimension. A delegate meeting is planned for 19 February to discuss how to take the campaign for £4,000 forward. We hope to involve representatives from Unison local government and the CWU.
Meanwhile ballots for industrial action are being held in areas where members have voted to reject the 2003 pay claim: in the Department of Work and Pensions, the Home Office, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Prison Service and the Treasury Solicitors.
Those ballots will be over soon, and the union hopes to organise co-ordinated two-day strike action on 29 and 30 January.
In the DWP, which is the biggest department to strike, there was a 51% turn-out in the ballot to reject the current pay offer of 2.6% (a less than inflation increase and therefore a pay cut). The original claim was for 6% and the union is seeking to get rid of Performance Related Pay.
If the co-ordinated action goes ahead in all the departments, some 100,000 people, or a third of PCS membership will be on strike.
What will happen after the strike action. Possibly a work to rule? But some of us are arguing for escalated action.
This action could well be the precursor to wider struggles, especially as the Treasury has indicated it will put a tighter squeeze on 2004 pay offers.
These pay disputes have been dragging on since the middle of last year. As our union General Secretary Mark Serwotka puts it, "The serious pay problems that have developed in 2003 and over the period since delegation proves the PCS demand for a comprehensive national solution. These problems include growing and unjustified disparities in pay, equal pay problems, low pay, wasteful duplication of pay bargaining resources and obstacles to staff career development and efficient machinery of government change."