Words by Ali Abdi
100,000 civil service workers are to strike on 1 February in an escalating dispute over pay, pensions, jobs and redundancy conditions, the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) Union has announced. Workers in 214 government departments will walk out in the largest coordinated strike action in a generation involving hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.
The date has been designated as a national “protect the right to strike day” by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in response to anti-strike government legislation introduced to parliament. Coordination between different unions are to take place with as many as 300,000 teachers, 70,000 university workers and 12,000 rail workers joining the walkouts on Wednesday 1 February.
A further 100,000 nurses and 25,000 paramedics are also striking on 6 February as the government maintains that a 10% pay rise is too dear. Waves of escalating strike action from hundreds of thousands workers across the United Kingdom continues to take place while the discord between workers and government ministers shows few signs of reaching a settlement, as ministers repeat that pay rises are unaffordable.
Speaking to Sky News, PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka said: “I think as long as the government retains its position of refusing to put money on the table, we will see more and more cooperation and coordination between unions.
“We’ve been given a 2% pay rise. We’ve been told tens of thousands of jobs are going to be slashed, our conditions are going to be cut. We believe that if you get less than the rate of inflation, you’re actually poorer for going to work at the end of the year than you were at the start of the year and that can’t be right.”
The PCS is demanding a pay rise of 10%, protections to pensions and protections from job cuts. The government claims the union’s pay demands, which are estimated to cost £2.4 billion, are unaffordable. But Serwotka thinks otherwise: “Even if it’s true that it was to cost £2.4bn, that is a tiny fraction the Conservative government was prepared to borrow to give tax cuts to the richest in this country. So the government knows it can afford it.”
Serwotka added: “Our hard-working members are fed up and angry with the way they’re being treated by a government that takes them for granted.
“Since our programme of sustained action started, thousands of new members have joined PCS, determined to win this dispute and secure for themselves a pay rise to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond. The government can resolve this dispute tomorrow if it puts money on the table. Until it does, the action will escalate.
“For the government’s own workforce to be reduced to using foodbanks because they can’t afford to buy food or burning candles at home because they can’t afford to turn their lights on is nothing short of a scandal.
“Rather than trying to tighten anti-trade union laws, attacking the unions and avoiding responsibility for the mess they’ve caused, the government should address the real issue faced by hundreds of thousands of workers, and put some money on the table to resolve the dispute and, more importantly, help its own workforce survive the winter.”
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