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We need to stay united in our struggles to roll back almost a decade of austerity

MARK SERWOTKA outlines the battles ahead for his union and the wider movement

EVERY May Day gives the trade union movement an opportunity to reflect — reflect on our successes and look forward to the battles ahead. 

My union has been through a difficult period with attacks on the check-off system which was designed by government to put our existence in jeopardy.

Fortunately through our collective resolve and determination, we have reorganised ourselves and are now on a footing where we can mount a serious campaign if necessary over pay.

At our recent NEC, the leadership of the PCS unanimously agreed to propose to our upcoming national conference an industrial action ballot of our members in the Civil Service and related areas on pay.

Currently the government has stated that it only budgeted for a 1 per cent pay rise for its own workforce and we are continuing to talk to them to see if we can shift their position.

Since that announcement, our members have felt let down given that the government had said it would be lifting the pay cap.

Ministers have already offered a 6.5 per cent pay rise over three years to NHS staff, 2 per cent for local government workers in England and, I’m pleased to say, PCS members who work for the Scottish government will get an above the rate of inflation rise. 

We are clear — it is right that the government give pay rises to other parts of the public sector. But it must also be right that they pay civil servants and related public-sector members properly too.

We’ve been through some tough times, not least the implementation of the Trade Union Act which applies arbitrary thresholds on member turnout in strike ballots. 

Despite these difficulties, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) recently successfully balloted its postal worker members who delivered such an overwhelming mandate for strike action that the employer immediately settled the dispute.

And the University and College Union (UCU) showed incredible resistance to the attacks on members’ pensions with 14 days of strike action.

This show of strength by university lecturers is an example of the need for trade unions to be on the front foot — making reasonable demands but prepared to take industrial action, mobilise members and win, if the government or employer force our hand.

And the government should not be in any doubt, our members deserve a 5 per cent rise or £1,200 a year (whichever is more) and the PCS stands ready to fight tooth and nail to secure what they deserve.

The Windrush debacle has also highlighted the importance of unions speaking out on social as well as industrial issues.

On Sunday it claimed the ministerial scalp of Amber Rudd and it has engulfed many of our members working in the Home Office.

They have had to endure not only scurrilous attempts from ministers to pin blame on them for people being rounded up into detention centres, denied healthcare and access to basic services but have had to implement the “hostile environment” policy, engineered by the now Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was home secretary.

It may surprise some but our members have in fact suffered discrimination in the workplace. According to Civil Service People Survey, 24 per cent of border force personnel have suffered discrimination at work.

Responsibility for the culture of suspicion, removal targets and the “go home” vans which stalked our streets lies firmly with May, who was home secretary from 2010-16.

My union vigorously opposed the Immigration Act 2014 as well as benefit sanctions which affect the most vulnerable in our society.

At the same time, we recognise the need for a strong union that defends its members while also pushing for changes in government policy that are in the interests of the public and the workforce.

Despite the obstacles in front of us, this year is a watershed for the trade union movement. As the Tories push for a Brexit that will benefit the rich and the major financial interests, we must ensure we are equally united in common purpose to make sure it is a Brexit that respects workers’ rights, maintains Britain as an open and tolerant society with a strong internationalist perspective in the best traditions of May Day and puts us on the path to a socialist economy.

But we are going to have to stay united, support each other in our struggles and fight with every ounce of our strength to roll back nearly a decade of austerity.

So I urge you to take inspiration from May Day, renew yourselves in your workplaces and carry forward the demands of working people for a decent future which we all want and deserve.

Mark Serwotka is general secretary of PCS.

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