Britain: Civil servants show Blair they mean business

After a 1,200-strong demonstration through central London, a packed rally heard PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka report on how successful the day’s strike action had been. He outlined the next stages of the campaign.

Over 200,000 civil servants went on strike on 5 November, against the government’s threat to 104,000 jobs and attacks on pensions, pay and sick leave. This was the first all-civil service strike since 1993 and a resounding response to these attacks. There was very little press coverage about the strike but we have received reports from all over the country.

Civil servants show Blair they mean business

He said that despite press speculation that the strike wouldn’t be a success there had been the most incredible response to the appalling treatment of low-paid civil servants.

Fifteen general secretaries of national trade unions were speaking at 50 rallies in support of the PCS.

Over 200,000 civil servants were on strike and even TGWU members in the government’s car service had refused to cross the picket lines. No ministerial cars were being cleaned, serviced or used that day.

In Northern Ireland, over 90% of Inland Revenue staff were on strike and in Liverpool only eight staff out of 148 in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices were working. PCS members in the Royal Parks were on strike for the first time in their history. Over 500 were marching in Nottingham.

Coventry’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices were completely shut. Management had conceded that 176 DWP offices were completely closed. Museums, libraries and even arbitration service ACAS were on strike.

Mark Serwotka warned that if there was any threat of any compulsory redundancy the union would take industrial action. He said: "We will rock the boat as hard as we can to make sure this is a general election issue."

After thanking other unions for their support he said: "If the government do not change tack then all the public-sector unions need to consider millions of us taking action to tell the government to stop robbing our pensions and stop treating public servants with contempt."

Later in the rally in response to questioning from the floor he elaborated on this: "Early in 2005 we want a national one-day strike involving teachers, local-government workers and other public sector-workers."

His remarks were greeted with a huge, prolonged standing ovation.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of public-sector union UNISON later said: "We will unite with you to fight these cuts" and "would stand shoulder to shoulder with PCS until the cuts are withdrawn."

He said if this meant UNISON members taking action then "we will take it" but did not go on to specify what type of action he envisaged.

Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the firefighters’ union FBU was given a warm welcome in recognition of the firefighters’ strike action in 2002-2003.

However, he was met with stony silence when he lectured the rally that "there are thousands of people in the Labour Party who will support you and don’t ever forget that."

A day to be proud of the union

Outside London the biggest rally of the day was in Glasgow where over 800 members attended in the city centre. The mood was fantastic, determined and united. Pickets were out all over the city from early in the morning and on most streets PCS placards and banners were present. Members from Edinburgh, Ayrshire and Fife organised buses to attend the rally.

The packed rally heard contributions from Janice Godrich, PCS President, Bill Speirs Scotland TUC general secretary and Eddie Reilly, PCS Scottish Secretary. Janice, a member of International Socialists, the Socialist Party’s counterpart, told the meeting: "Today is a day to be proud, of your union, of your colleagues but most of all of yourselves. But it is also a day to be angry, angry that it’s taken a day of industrial action by low-paid members to make this government listen to PCS members. There has been no case given for these job cuts and members have shown that they will not be used as a political football in the run up to the general election."

She concluded by thanking members for their support and "myself, Mark Serwotka and the NEC guarantee that we will continue this campaign with determination and vigour until our jobs are secure, our pensions are secure and our conditions are secure."

After the rally all 800 members marched through Glasgow city centre. In a final contribution, Alan Brown, NEC member, told the strikers that the next stage in the campaign was a demonstration in chancellor Gordon Brown’s constituency before the end of the year and increasing the pressure on other public sector unions to join our campaign.

Great display of solidarity

Lindsey Baker, a PCS Branch Secretary in the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) reports from Sheffield.

The strike at DfES Sheffield started at midnight on 5 November when security guards stopped work. Pickets started arriving at 6.30am to stop the post and other deliveries.

25 members turned out for picketing duty in a magnificent display of solidarity. These were not just branch officials but ordinary members angry at the attack on jobs, pensions and sick pay.

Our branch had been very active in the run-up to the strike, issuing a leaflet each week for five weeks. The hard work paid off! We gained more members on the day because some people signed up on the picket line.

At 10.30am all the pickets gathered and marched to the rally, singing and chanting behind the branch banner. Marion Lloyd, Socialist Party member and also on the PCS national executive (NEC) gave an inspiring speech pledging the NEC’s commitment to winning our dispute:

"It’s a strange world where ’dealing with tax avoidance’ means letting them off the hook by cutting tax enforcers. ’Making public services more efficient’ means reducing public access. ’More choice’ means only for the rich and not for the poor."

She listed the next stages of the campaign: "We’ll be demonstrating in Gordon Brown’s constituency before Christmas. We’ll be leafleting the general public each Saturday between now and Christmas. And we’re calling for a meeting of all union executives across the TUC.

"It is now time for all public sector workers to be united in action against these attacks. We must agree a united campaign in defence of jobs, pensions and services."

Stop this jobs slaughter!

AROUND 7,000 civil servants took strike action in Swansea. The DVLA and the Pensions Centre had picket lines on all its sites with Socialist Party PCS members and supporters leading the picketing. They spoke to Alec Thraves and Sheila Caffrey.

"While many stayed away at the DVLA, unfortunately hundreds went to work. This was definitely due to the fact that the right-wing branch leadership did next to nothing to build for the strike. On sections where we campaigned for strike action and explained the issues, the vast majority came out on strike".

This was the case at Swansea’s Land Registry where 200 out of 230 came out on strike and the Pensions Centre, where most stayed away!

Almost 100 strikers came to the midday rally to hear John McInally, PCS National Executive Committee (NEC) member, stress the determination of the executive to stop this jobs slaughter.

One of the best responses from the audience was when Alec Thraves, speaking on behalf of the trades council, said in attacking New Labour that "A growing number of trade unionists, like himself, John McInally, Janice Godrich, PCS president and Chris Baugh, PCS deputy general secretary, all Socialist Party members, were campaigning for a new mass workers’ party to replace New Labour before they destroy our public services".

A PCS campaign co-ordinating committee has now been established and is bringing together all the different departments to prepare for the next stage of the dispute.


At the rally in Cardiff, Katrine Williams, DWP Wales secretary and Socialist Party member understood the anger of members best of all. "If the government was serious about saving money in the civil service then they would cut the £3 billion being paid to private consultants" she declared to loud applause. And she pointed out "we defeated the Tories’ proposals to close over 50 DWP offices in 1993 and now we will defeat New Labour’s plans to close over 60 offices, because this time we are even more determined and better organised". 1,500 civil servants have joined PCS in Wales since the government’s plans were announced.

On the picket lines new activists joined union officials. At the Inland Revenue where 200 jobs are under threat, the normally packed car park was half empty as the strike really bit. One of the pickets pointed out that the government cuts are a joke because management has suggested spending £2 million on overtime payments because the Revenue cannot cope.

Meanwhile in Cardiff city centre Socialist Party members built support for the strike amongst the public, running a stall protesting against New Labour’s cuts in services while fat-cat private companies prosper from government contracts.

More reports from the picket lines can be read on

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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November 2004