Workers in Jobcentre Plus Contact Centres have been in dispute over working conditions since 2009.
There have been several strikes since the beginning of 2011. In each case Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) management have been adamant there will be no settlement after action, but in each case the strikes have been well supported and small gains have been won.
After the last strike, in August, again some small gains were made, but there is still much to fight for before Contact Centre working conditions are comparable with those of colleagues in other parts of Jobcentre Plus.
However, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) are now recommending that members accept a new management offer, which in fact offers very few concrete gains, and the vast majority of which consists of platitudes about how bosses are “committed to a new start”.
This offer hardly spells a victory, especially when one considers the original demands of the campaign.
Rather, it seems to be an excuse for the negotiators to duck out of a troublesome and difficult dispute rather than keep fighting.
In the GEC meeting where the offer was discussed, the Socialist Party (SP) and Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star) majority (including DWP Group President and SP member Fran Heathcote) voted to recommend acceptance. Two SWP members and some independents voted to recommend rejection.
One GEC member, Alan Smith (also the editor of the DWP members’ journal), resigned from his GEC position soon after this meeting where he had argued against the recommendation.
There was a call from activists for a national reps meeting to discuss the offer prior to any recommendation, which would have been in line with the union’s response to previous offers in the campaign. Instead, the GEC met first and made their recommendation, and it seemed the reps’ meeting was called merely to “inform” and to recommend acceptance of the deal.
The reps’ meeting was clearly mixed, and reps present called for a vote. However, the DWP President refused to let a vote take place in the room.
It is understood that some of the GEC had doubts as to whether there was enough strength to continue to fight. But the answer to this is not to admit defeat, but to organise effectively on the ground.
This is a defeatist attitude, and it appears the leadership takes no responsibility for this supposed lack of organisation, when this dispute has been running for three years.
There is no doubt that there is still an appetite to fight in many places; this can be heard in offices up and down the country where workers angrily ask their local reps why they are being sold out.
The pattern of this dispute clearly shows that we can keep on winning gains each time. So why settle now? It seems that PCS negotiators may have become jaded by the long-running dispute and were looking for a way out.
Nearly every member of the GEC would define themselves as socialists, and most as revolutionaries.
The fundamental lack of analysis of the strategy of this campaign and its failings is shameful, and suggests that the SP majority do not have the confidence that they can win more. But if this is the case then they have to look to themselves for the reasons why.
PCS activists should organise in Contact Centres and to keep on fighting until we win.
That means rejecting this shoddy deal.