Charlie McDonald, PCS Department of Work and Pensions East London branch secretary
Public and Commercial Services Union members working in Jobcentres and dole offices in London have voted for a series of strikes. The first is due to take place on 16 November.
It is still possible the the PCS DWP Group Executive, dominated by the Socialist Party and their fellow travellers, will find some excuse to cancel the strike, possibly by arguing that it should be merged into proposals for national action on jobs at a future stage (which, contrary to the report in the 22 October edition of Socialist Worker, are still highly hypothetical).
The 16 November action is a response to the savage job cuts programme being implemented by Gordon Brown, across the Civil Service. 100,000 jobs are to be cut. On top of this, work is being moved out of London to the regions. We are particularly worried about the impact this will have on unemployment in black and minority ethnic communities.
Union members' concerns are twofold. Firstly we are worried about increasing workloads. There is the same amount of work to do now as there was four years ago in London but there are 4,000 fewer staff to do it — a reduction of almost 30% from 14,000 to 10,000 DWP staff working in London.
Secondly we are concerned about the level of service being provided. In Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham, new claimants of Income Support are waiting, on average, four weeks before they get a payment. The Sylvester Road office processes all Income Support and Job Seekers Allowance claims for people living in East London. It is nigh on impossible to get through on the telephone because of antiquated IT systems. All funds for training courses for the unemployed have been withdrawn due to cutbacks.
Union members want to see managers recruit extra staff so that we can provide an acceptable level of service, ensuring that payments are made on time and that full support is given to unemployed workers who want to go back to work. We want to defend welfare provision.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have a completely different vision. They want to hand the welfare state over to their friends in big business. In the past two weeks leaked documents have revealed that secretary of state David Blunkett has commissioned a feasibility study into privatising Jobcentre Plus.
PCS believes we need strike action to defend jobs. But we also believe that we need to develop a political campaign uniting workers with service users. We should be talking about the sort of social security system that we need, one that offers help and support for those who cannot work not instead of the current system which punishes you for being out of work.
What can you do? Come down to our picket lines on 16 November. Picket lines will be mounted at all Jobcentres and Social Security offices. Get your union branch to pass a resolution of support. And write to your Labour MP or councillor asking them to support PCS’s campaign to defend and expand public services and the welfare state.