British public service workers launch massive strike

Issue 

More than 200,000 public service workers in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) held a nationwide strike on January 31, which is being followed by a two-week overtime ban. The February 1 Morning Star reported that "the action hit 200 government departments, halted important court cases and paralysed passport offices, benefit centres, and tax offices". In addition, the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff was forced to abandon proceedings, and in London the British Library, Tate Modern and Tate Britain were closed.

PCS members in the defence ministry took part in the walkout, and 2000 union members walked out of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The January 31 Guardian explained that the industrial action had been sparked by "the government's refusal to give the union a guarantee that job cuts will not be achieved by compulsory redundancies, and ministers' determination to complete the cull of 84,000 civil service jobs, first announced by the chancellor, Gordon Brown, in 2004".

The PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told the Guardian that "Far from having gold-plated terms and conditions, thousands of civil servants earn just above the minimum wage and a quarter earn less than £15,430 [around A$40,000]".

On the Scottish Socialist Party website, SSP workplace organiser Richie Venton reported on the day's events in Scotland, where over 95% of public servants were reported to have joined the strike: "The PCS strike was a resounding success. Mere handfuls crossed picket lines. Senior managers were drafted in to save face in many places, such as some Revenue offices. Large numbers mounted pickets in the larger offices.

"Solidarity was expressed in the form of drivers of bin wagons and Royal Mail vans refusing to cross pickets. At East Kilbride tax office management called the fire brigade to extinguish the pickets' brazier, but Fire Brigades Union members refused to do so."

Venton reported that hundreds of people joined the rally and march in Glasgow. He promised that "SSP members in PCS will now campaign alongside others within the union to ensure this marvellous show of workers' unity and trade union strength is followed up by a solid overtime ban, coordinated action in departments affected by pay cuts, and a further one or two-day national strike across the entire civil service before the May elections".

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