Thursday, February 15, 2007

200,000 civil servants walk out

AROUND 200,000 civil servants took strike action on Wednesday 31st January, bringing courts to a standstill, closing benefit offices, job centres and museums and cancelling driving tests.

The 24-hour strike was organised by the Public and Commercial Services union in its long-running dispute over job cuts, pay and privatisation. “Innovative forms” of industrial action will continue for another two weeks. The union said it expected up to half a million tax returns could be delayed or disrupted because the action was being held on the self-assessment tax deadline day.

Tax offices were closed by the walkout, including those at Southend, Bishops Stortford and Middlesbrough, said the union. Taxpayers were told they will get no extension to the 31st January deadline for returning self-assessment forms, despite the strike.

The trial of six men accused of the 21st July 2005 attempted bombing campaign in London was hit because court ushers, security guards and admin staff at Woolwich Crown Court in south-east London were among those on strike.

The case was switched to the Old Bailey, where legal arguments were heard, not in front of a jury. A courts service spokesperson said: “This is part of our contingency planning for the strike action.”

PCS said that the strike led to the cancellation of 2,000 driving tests, the closures of galleries including the Tate Modern and Tate Britain and the suspension of business in the Welsh Assembly.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The massive show of support today demonstrates the levels of anger and frustration that has built up amongst the Government’s own workforce over below inflation pay offers and crude job cuts that are damaging services. “The people taking action today aren’t the high flying mandarins being bussed around the country in an attempt to keep offices open, but people providing the everyday things we take for granted from cradle to the grave. “With a two-week overtime ban starting tomorrow, the Government needs to give assurances on jobs, services and privatisation as well as addressing pay inequalities and low pay if it is to avoid further disruption.”

Hundreds of strikers attended a rally in Westminster to hear Serwotka attack the Government for the disgraceful way public sector workers are being treated. He said: “Job cuts are not improving services or saving taxpayers money, but they are demoralising the workforce. “What is more efficient about cutting 50,000 jobs, then bringing in consultants on 10 times the salary of a civil servant? “At the same time, we know that top executives are being paid a huge bonus out of savings they have made cutting jobs.”

The strike had backing from other unions, in particular the giant public sector union Unison. “Your struggle is our struggle and we offer our support because our two great unions have so much in common,” general secretary Dave Prentis told striking civil service workers at the Westminster strike rally.

Prentis described being in Westminster for the second time in just over a week as a “sad indication of the state of things”, but, he added that it was “a good indication of the solidarity of the union movement that I can bring a message of support from my members and wish you success in your important campaign, which is very much a part of our fight to protect civil and public services.”

Unison and PCS have “so much in common – members working side-by-side in local government, the health service, the Scottish Parliament and Assembly for Wales, the probation service”, said Dave Prentis, and “we both have proud traditions of looking to secure fairness and justice for those who deliver our vital public services.”