England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Tories declare war on civil service workers: Build a fighting campaign!

Roughly 500,000 civil servants woke to the news last month that the government would begin plans to axe 91,000 jobs. This was without any consultation with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS). 

The Tories of course justify this as a money saving exercise to allow the government more money to ‘soften the blow’ of the cost of living crisis. This is easy to see through however. 

The government has had ample opportunity to implement measures that would alleviate the crisis, such an implementing a £15/hr minimum wage and public ownership of the energy companies. But this is the Tories we are talking about after all! 

Rightly, ordinary people in the wake of this cost of living crisis and spiralling inflation have responded by calling for this sort of emergency action.

But in spite of this rightful pressure, the response has been to consult the Tory rulebook of capitalist business as usual. And so they will attempt to cut essential public sector jobs with no concern for the long term effects.

Even with the so-called ‘offer’ of 2-3% increases on pay for civil servants, inflation driven by rampant profiteering means this will amount to nothing other than a real-terms pay cut!

A right-wing attack

The Tories and right-wing press have for decades tried to spin a narrative that civil servants are separate from the rest of the workforce. We are labelled ‘pencil pushers’ with cushy jobs and overly generous pensions. 

But it is the basic rights and conditions of all workers that have come under attack, including for civil servants. Many of us were forced to work during the height of the pandemic without adequate precautions to suppress the spread of Covid. 

These cuts, if implemented, will only add to the various problems that plague society – particularly tax dodging by the super-rich who will see fewer barriers to scrutiny.

Further downgrading on staffing levels by the government and employers will only worsen the current state of delays in essential services, such as issuing of passports. It has absolutely nothing to do with the supposed ‘laziness’ of civil service staff.

National plan of action needed now

When P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite announced the sacking of an entire workforce and willingly broke the law in doing so, Johnson and the Tories feigned their outrage while there was mass working class outcry over these methods. But they did absolutely nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening again. 

This only shows that a limited approach of simply ‘consulting’ with the government will not be sufficient to fight back against this onslaught. 

Recently, PCS Conference at the end of May voted in favour of beginning preparations for a national ballot to begin on 1 September, although it is not yet entirely clear what demands the union’s leadership will be putting forward on job cuts. 

Clearly, what is needed most urgently is an emergency national plan of action to resist these job losses, to fight for inflation-busting pay deals.

We need to break from the past habit of repeating the same tactics that have ended with us falling short of the undemocratic 50% threshold, as has been in the case in PCS’ recent history. This will also mean tying the upcoming ballot to the issue of job losses, which the union leadership has not yet made sufficiently clear.

PCS also needs to recognise areas of strength, areas where the union can win, areas where action will have the most industrial impact. Winning these battles will give confidence to the union’s members that we can win the wider war.

To do this, the union’s leadership should immediately prepare to allocate its resources to its network of reps to push the ballot with this plan to make sure every PCS member is made fully aware of the ballot and the real issues at stake.

In the three months since the close of the consultative ballots, reps have seen very little drive to take us forward. We need a bold, fighting and outwards-facing campaign, coordinated with other unions in the public sector, from above and below. 

What the unions need now is a coordinated joined up plan of action across all sectors to fend off the worst biting effects of the cost of living crisis. This summer is set to be a a summer of important industrial actions – a “summer of discontent” for the bosses and government.

From the rail workers in the RMT, postal workers in CWU, education workers in the NEU and more localised disputes, the situation is ripe for the unions to coordinate. Where possible, strike dates should be set on the same day, with common demonstrations and demands. 

18 June’s TUC demonstration shows that common demands can be put forward as a step towards a mass union fightback – a real summer and autumn of industrial struggle! 


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