The strike action at the DWP and Driving Standards Agency on 16 and 17 February was a wonderful display of solidarity. It showed just how wrong the majority on the PCS Executive of the DWP was in calling off the strikes planned for the 29 and 30 January. With thousands of non-members also joining the union, there can be no doubting the desire of DWP members to win this dispute.
The Group Executive Committee now needs to develop a strategy that builds on that membership feeling but does not leap ahead of it, that causes the maximum disruption to management whilst being difficult to plan against, and that will further enhance membership confidence and lead to even greater action. There needs to be serious escalation of the action if the dispute is to move forwards.
It is essential that branches hold membership meetings to discuss how to win this dispute, taking the membership's views to the Regional Committees, the GEC and National Executive.
There is a real fear that management will sit out the GEC's likely plan for a three day strike on the 13-15 April.
With this in mind, the London Regional Committee is rightly calling for a full week's action of half day strikes - 5 half days combined with a work to rule that would maximise the disruption, minimise the cost to members, and prepare the way for a further heightening of the action.
This approach should be combined with the GEC's plan and with selective action in Benefit and Call Centres.
To call for a ballot now for all out action, however, would be to run ahead of the membership and derail the dispute. The task now is to escalate the action in a way that builds membership and activist confidence. Doing this will simultaneously allow those of us in favour of all out action, if it there is a reasonable prospect of delivering it, to continue to put the arguments to other members.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of particular strategies, the GEC majority's dreadful failure of nerve in January demonstrates the need for the active involvement of branches and members in the day-to-day running of the dispute and in holding the GEC to account. We need a national strike committee, comprised of recallable delegates from each region. Winning the dispute however, cannot be simply about the 2003 DWP pay offer .
We are just a few months off the 2004 pay review (and not only in DWP). The longer the current dispute goes on the more ridiculous it becomes to treat the current dispute as if it is utterly unrelated to the inevitable and imminent 2004 dispute and to the planned national pay campaign for 2004.
The Treasury has set a pay remit limit of 3.5% for the entire civil service. The DWP, just another tier in the employer's management chain, will not be allowed to go significantly beyond a 3.5% remit.
DWP management is planning:
- a 2004 pay offer that it has internally acknowledged will be rejected by the union because it will be so low;
- 2004-2005(6?) offers in the region of 3.5% and with no significant improvement in progressing members to pay maximums and no catching up on significantly better paid colleagues in, for instance, DEFRA and DfT;
- to link pay to relative assessment;
- staff cuts of up to 18,000 posts.
To win or force a "score draw" on management for 2003, only to have to go back to members within a matter of weeks to seek action on another poor offer and on probably the same basic issues, would be to allow the DWP to wage a war of attrition on members.
The GEC should hammer home the information it has on the DWP's longer term agenda in all membership circulars and meetings, formulate demands for progression to maximum within five years of grade entry and for an end to low pay, and connect those demands and the settlement of 2003 to guarantees that would undercut management's plans for 2004 and beyond.
If the National Executive is halfway serious about national pay then it must maximise the resources to support members already taking action, to spread that action across the civil service, and to escalate the issues at stake. Defeat of members in the DWP, a third of the whole union membership, would deal a heavy blow to the campaign for national pay. The NEC must now establish a national levy of the entire union to support strike action, enabling reps collecting the levy to raise the arguments for national pay.
The Treasury war cry of "not a penny beyond the remit" will fuel further poor offers and more disputes in 2004. This Treasury war cry does not require a co-ordinated response from PCS but a single pay dispute with the union mobilising all its strength Instead of PCS presiding over a whole number of "sectional" disputes over the same issues and against the same Treasury remit limit, it should be uniting the entire union into a fight to bust that limit.
All levels of the union, including and perhaps most especially the DWP GEC, should be demanding that the PCS NEC:
- now rouses up all members against the Government's plan to drive through years of low pay settlements;
- alerts members to the inequalities that now exist;
- demands a significant increase in the Treasury 2004 remit to allow for the movement towards high minimum common standards and eventually national pay;
- ballots all civil service members for a legal dispute against the single employer of all civil servants, the Crown, over the trade dispute issue of the already announced low, pay-bill limiting, remit and associated issues.
A core element in any such dispute must be a crusade against low pay. Politically as well as industrially we must expose the scandal of low pay and the fat cat mandarins who preside over it, ripping off the taxpayer with their exorbitant salaries and pensions whilst delivering nothing on the ground.
It is time for the national union to be punching with all its weight on behalf of all members. With members in tax, benefits, customs, and politically important (and often revenue gathering) areas such as the Driving Standards Agency, the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency and Passports Office', it is time to end the years of divide and rule with wild inequalities and low pay as the consequence. Roll the 2003 DWP dispute into a dispute over 2004, and make that dispute part of a national PCS fight against the remit!
By a PCS member at the Department of Work and Pensions