Working-class people saw further attacks in George Osborne’s 20 March budget in the form of cuts to benefits and a continued pay freeze for public sector workers.
However, the strike by PCS members across the civil service on Budget Day — over pay, pensions, and terms and conditions — should help raise our spirits!
The government’s policies of pay restraint and pay freezes have seriously eaten into the living standards of the lowest paid civil servants over the past years. They face another hike in pension contributions this April with a further, final increase in April 2014.
The 20 March strike was announced as the beginning of a programme of action over the next three months. PCS members will walk out again from 1pm on Friday 5 April, as well as implementing a three-month overtime ban. Regional and selective action is also due to take place between national strikes.
This is a significant step forward from PCS’s previous “strategy” of occasional one-day strikes punctuated by months of inactivity. But PCS has been slow to move into battle, with its leaders arguing for months that it could not act without the support of other unions.
But it is possible to take on the government on your own and win. There are 43 staff in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who will attest to this. They were issued compulsory redundancy notices over Christmas. DWP members voted for group-wide strike action, and the notices were withdrawn. This may look like a small victory but it is not insignificant to those 43 workers that faced redundancy.
Had the PCS leadership accepted earlier that it was possible for PCS to fight on its own, the union could have done the necessary preparation work to ensure a more convincing ballot result (the vote for the 20 March strike was 61% on a 28% turnout, low for the PCS), particularly around the issue of pay.
The Independent Left grouping in PCS, in which Workers’ Liberty members are involved, argued on the 20 March picket lines that a voluntary levy of all members is now necessary. This could fund sustained strikes.
Around clear industrial demands such strike action could force the government to back down.