How would you like it if your boss unilaterally tore up your employment contract and tried implementing a new one without your consent? Would you roll over or take action? Facing a similar choice, the sections of the civil service represented by the Public Commercial Services union have opted to fight. The dispute's background can be found here.
Brothers S, AH, SF and I did a tour of the picket lines in Hanley this morning to bring solidarity greetings from our UCU branch and the body of proletarian struggle that is North Staffs Trades Council. At the first picket line, PCS activist Brother A told us he was very pleased with the turnout for the strike. Of his workplace of approximately 250 those that had gone in numbered in single figures. Despite many low paid staff working there they were absolutely solid - it was workers on higher grades who did the crossing. This was interesting considering his workplace had been bombarded with anti-strike propaganda from the powers that be.
Matters were slightly different at the next workplace we visited. Though more were out picketing, more workers had gone in. Sister C told me that part of the problem is her department employs more casual workers than the other - it's hard to motivate these workers to strike over changes to terms and conditions when their contracts run out in a couple of months time. Still, there was no excusing some. One non-union worker obviously felt a touch guilty as he crossed the picket line - he tossed a bag of mints to one of the pickets as a means of assuaging his guilt.
I also asked the comrade if younger workers were more likely to go in. After all, trade union traditions have had some difficulty transferring to the generation that grew up under Thatcher and Blair. But thankfully, C thought there was no noticeable difference at all. While the young workers were less likely to be on the picket line, they were no more prone to scabbing than anyone else.
By this time Brother J had brought along the TUC banner which we unfurled and attracted bewildered looks from passersby. After milling around for a little while longer, we nipped up to the next workplace ... only to find the picket line winding down - the last picket was about to leave. She told us out of 150 workers only a handful plus management (who are also PCS and affected by the same contractual changes) had gone in. The place was open as normal but there would have been very little in the way of a service available.
We were warmly received everywhere we went and we'll be doing it all again tomorrow, but this time we're visiting the last first so we can actually catch some workers. If readers (who aren't striking PCS workers) are able to it's well worth making the effort to support the PCS in this dispute. After all, if management here can unilaterally discard employment contracts without fear, what's stopping other bosses in other industries from following suit? That is what is at stake.