FCO dispute renewed

Submitted by AWL on 29 January, 2020 - 8:53 Author: John Moloney

Our members at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who are employed by Interserve, are striking for a month, throughout February.

This is an ongoing dispute; the workers are striking to win living wages, union recognition, and greater equality. Ultimately the demand is for direct employment, they should be employed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on civil service terms and conditions.

We want to build maximum support for the strike. There will be picket lines every day, and we’re trying to persuade the TUC to launch the “I Heart Unions” month, which runs throughout February, from the picket line. That’s what the month should be for: highlighting active strikes and struggles.

We’re making a major effort to mobilise other PCS branches to support the picket lines. We’re also building political pressure, and expect various Labour MPs, including leadership candidates, to visit the picket line.

Our branch at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has called a Trade Union Bloc on the 14 February climate strike. We hope the Foreign and Commonwealth Office strikers will march from their picket line to join the bloc at BEIS.

BEIS is a key department in terms of climate change policy, and it’s also the department that will develop proposed new laws restricting strikes in the transport industry. The branch has rightly drawn these links in the publicity for the climate strike bloc; the fight against climate change needs free trade unions, able to strike legally over political issues.

Fighting anti-union legislation is something the whole labour movement needs to take more seriously. Our National Executive Committee recently voted to support the Free Our Unions campaign’s new statement, calling for united resistance across the labour movement to the threat of new anti-strike laws.

BEIS has also recently been the sight of inspiring strikes by outsourced workers, which resulted in big victories against outsourcing giants Aramark and ISS.

As a union we want to organise and empower outsourced workers across the civil service. In the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the biggest single department in the civil service, G4S, one of the largest outsourcing firms in the world, currently has the contract for security staff. GMB has a recognition agreement with G4S on that contract.

Our preference would be to have a joint dispute alongside them, but unfortunately we recently discovered via a Freedom of Information request that their recognition deal includes a no-strike agreement.

That is obviously a significant impediment to organising and action. Tim Roache, the GMB general secretary, has said that if GMB members in DWP vote to take action, they won’t be blocked from doing that, which is obviously encouraging. It would be better, however, if GMB formally repudiated the deal and found a way out of it. We are happy to work with other unions with members in the civil service; but we want that work to be on the basis of joint disputes and industrial action.

This is not about intra-union rivalry, it’s about what’s best for workers, and what best enables them to take on their employer.

• John Moloney is Assistant General Secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity.

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