Thursday, 1 February 2007

Stoke PCS Strike Rally

Cave-dwelling lefties may have missed the mass walkout by civil servants today. Over 200,000 workers stayed away from their workplaces, and judging by the reports I've come across the strike has proven to be pretty solid. If there was a crossing of the pickets it was sporadic and in small numbers.

Myself and N went along to the PCS strike meeting in Hanley this lunch time (I was too lazy to head up to the picket lines first thing). Aside from ourselves and the three speakers, 21 other workers turned up from the Magistrates, DWP, Job Centre and probably a few more workplaces I missed.

The meeting opened with Sue Harris, the head of employment rights for the Midland region for Thompson's solicitors. For readers not familiar with Thompson's, this is the legal firm whose relationship to the labour movement goes back over 100 years. She began with a story about her daughter. A couple of months ago she attended the demonstration/TUC lobby of parliament against the swingeing cuts in the NHS. Later, a her daughter's friend asked her who her mum was marching to save the NHS from. She replied the Tories. Sue then had to explain it was actually the Labour government responsible for the worsening situation and privatisation, not just in the NHS but across the public services in general. She expressed amazement at the depths of the cuts and pledged that come what may, Thompson's would back trade union action against them.

John Ellis, PCS branch secretary for West Lancs. and Cheshire was next. He hailed the strike a great success with minimal scabbing, and that's despite his never having come across before a more concerted effort to get people to cross picket lines. In Crewe he encountered four young agency workers who'd come all the way from Nottingham in an attempt to break the strike. Sadly for the bosses on this site, they (along with senior managers) were the only ones to go in. What this indicates is the civil service tops are very worried - such measures are born from desparation. In another example, departmental intranets have been buzzing with management messages encouraging strike-breaking and mealy mouthed pleas for the union to continue negotiations. And yet there is no genuine movement from this direction. John then moved onto the government, arguing "Labour goes where Thatcher feared to tread". But the strike today is start of the fightback. By standing together, and citing a couple of examples of localised struggles, campaigning can work, and the prize is the rolling back of Labour's attacks.

Kim Ellis (chair) invited contributions from the floor. A worker from the DWP spoke first about the baleful effects job cuts have already on her department; in terms of the amount of work expected from remaining staff and the lengthening time benefit clients have to wait for their money. To make matters worse, the savings the job cuts were supposed to have released are being swallowed up by the weekend overtime the department is having to pay out to clear the blacklog of claims!

A worker from the magistrates court chipped in next. He outlined the regional pay plans the treasury have rolled out. What these mean is where workloads are relatively light, salaries will be correspondingly higher than impoverished regions because of the great work load. In Gordon Brown's twisted logic, courts workers should get paid less when they work more. To add insult to injury there's talk now of a 7 YEAR wage freeze for some positions!

Kim came in and talked about the scandal of consultancies. Where the civil service is being chopped to the bone money can always be found to hire costly consultants ... to advise the government on how to improve the civil service! You would think the people best qualified to dispense such advice are those who work in it, day in, day out. She also flagged up Staffs Anti-Cuts Campaign, an informal body attempting to coordinate actions across Staffordshire, and urged everyone present to get involved.

John then summed up. Contrary to media attempts to isolate strikers from the rest of the working class, the projected 100,000 job losses will have an economic impact too. A layer of workers will depend on the custom they bring to thousands of businesses.

One final point, he noted PCS members should not let the media coverage, or lack thereof dishearten them. He was right to make this point. I've seen nothing on BBC TV news as the strike and the re-arrest of Lord Levy have been buried beneath the latest terrorist scare. I leave it up to comrades to decide whether the raids in Birmingham were timed to take these stories off the news agenda.


ejh said...

John Ellis. There's a name I've not seen for a while. Fortunately, a different one.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think the raids were a distraction against another breaking news story...

Gus @