"Carnage for the public services"
Mark Serwotka, PCS union General Secretary
By a civil servant
On Monday 12 July Gordon Brown announced the axing of 100,000 civil service jobs. Just like that. It is a job cut programme on a par with the butchery that was done to the mining industry in the last twenty years.
Of that 100,000, 20,000 are to be "lost" in the so-called devolved administrations (Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the GLA). In addition 20,000 jobs will be relocated out of London and the south east All of these cuts will be made at breakneck pace, to be completed by the end of financial year 2007/08.
How are these job cuts being sold to the public? That resources cut from the so-called "back room" will be transferred to front line services and, so they say, services will get better. For instance, in areas such as the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) there will be more staff dealing with the public.
And the money saved will fund increases in teachers, doctor and nurses.
These claims simply do not add up.
To take the DWP example. In the London Region of the DWP, where the modernisation plans are the most far advanced, the service has declined; complaints have risen (in particular, concerning state pensions) and, not only that, it is planned that the numbers dealing with the public will decrease!
It is estimated that the staff cuts in the civil service, once they have worked their way through, will "save" £5 billion a year (excluding redundancy costs, the payment of staff benefits and the like). But Gordon Brown is looking for £21 billion of savings. Therefore these staff cuts are a long way off ensuring that there will be more nurses and doctors.
This job cull is about something entirely different, it is about politics. New Labour wants to outflank the Conservatives... from the right. They want to "neutralise" the Tories' attack on "fat" government. And Gordon Brown wants to reassure the "markets" that he has the Government debt in hand.
The cut reinforces the notion that workers are disposable. People think, "there but for the grace of god go I" and therefore "I must not ask for a pay rise, at least I have a job."
Any serious response by the PCS (the largest civil service union) is going to lock the union into a bitter fight with the government. That is why it is crucial the union has a fighting strategy.
The PCS rank and file group, Socialist Caucus, has drawn up a draft programme of action to fight these cuts.
The draft programme says that there should be:
- Co-ordinated national industrial action (including selective action) across departments. Not vague protest action but for clear positive goals such as: no office closures, no cuts in service to the public, no compulsory redundancies.
- Local strike action. The pace of the cuts will vary across the civil service, we cannot have the same timetable for action everywhere.
- The union must set up a national strike levy now.
- Central negotiations with the employer of all civil servants, the Crown. Local PCS bodies cannot be left to deal with these cuts on their own.
- The Crown has an opt out of the redundancy consultation laws. Legally they do not have to consult union and staff over job cuts. The union must campaign for legislation to end this opt out.
- The union to organise or co-organise a national march for jobs. The TUC used to organise a "People's March for Jobs" which worked its way down through the country holding meetings and local demonstrations in each town and city as it passed through and culminating in a massive national demo in London. There are positive aspects of this model that we can use and adapt. The union/public sector unions/TUC should organise a similar event.
- Public meetings in every town and city, co-sponsored with other organisations, and specifically targeted at the constituencies of Government ministers, leaders of the opposition parties and marginal seats.
- A conference of all London and south east representatives as they will bear the brunt of the first wave of cuts through relocation.
- A detailed campaign pack to be sent to every branch in the country and publicity about successful local campaigns that have kept Civil Service Offices open when threatened with closure.
- The formation of an alliance with other public sector unions in defence of public services and with the National Pensioners Convention, Unemployed Workers' Centres, Welfare Organisations, Citizen's Advice Bureaux, local politicians, councils, trades councils and MPs.
- A massive press and media campaign, plus leafleting of the public to bring to their attention that civil servants are not tea swilling bureaucrats, but ordinary workers providing a public service, often under-staffed, under resourced and under stress.
- A national campaigns committee to co-ordinate and support the campaign.
- The union is supporting a Community Services Bill which would mandate the Crown to maintain services in each locality. PCS must now vigorously back this bill.
- The Caucus, with independent branches, to organise a rank and file conference/campaign concerning the cuts.
Socialist Caucus is also preparing: model motions for PCS and DWP regional committees on the cuts crisis; a suitable motion to the DWP GEC to be written up as well.
The Socialist Caucus is the only group with a positive programme and the will to fight within the union. Within Left Unity it will have to challenge the present leadership.
Nobody can have illusions that the defence of jobs and services (we must be the public's champion) will be easy. New Labour, with Tory cheerleading, wants these cuts.
We can win but it will require a mobilisation of effort that the civil service trade unions have not seen for decades. Moreover it is going to require back-up and solidarity from the entire trade union movement. In the first place, all the public sector unions need to unite to fight these job cuts.