Mark Serwotka, Our NHS demonstration, March 2017 Mark Serwotka, Our NHS demonstration, March 2017. Photo: Jim Aindow

After the government U-turn on being able to work from home, the PCS Union offers another example of the power of popular pressure, argues Floyd Codlin

The PCS Union, of which I’m a proud member, is the largest civil service union in the UK.  Against the background of fighting cuts to job centre hours, the closures of job centres and tax offices – the Ealing office was but one example – we’ve also been fighting to save members’ jobs and defend the public services so desperately needed, especially during the pandemic.

What we’ve noticed, along with our brilliant comrades and colleagues in the NEU (National Education Union), is that if you stand up to bullying from employers and the government, you can force the latter to back down. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our union, which was vilified in certain sections of the media for standing up for the safety of civil servants, has been vindicated by this government U-turn.”

Along with the NEU, PCS has been as clear as possible that it welcomes a return back to work only once proper health and safety checks are put in place.

This is by no means asking for the moon, when you consider that: (a) between 45-60,000 people have died over the last 4 months, including several hundred frontline workers;  (b) the various track and trace contracts have been doled out to friends of the Tory Party cabinet; (c) the lockdown measures have been contradictory at best; (d) Johnson’s government is gearing up to put the blame for any further mass outbreaks on working class people, while at the same time demanding they pay for a crisis they didn’t create.

PCS has argued strongly that members should be allowed to work from home where possible, with no detriment to their pay or conditions. Michael Gove, the former education minister infamous for sneering at the teaching unions as “the blob”, was asked on TV whether it is still government policy that people should start going back to work if they can.  He responded “no”.  Since September 22nd 2020, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has now met with Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm.

Back in July, Union News pointed out “The union in July told members to ignore Gove’s advice, and remain working at home. Yesterday, Gove seemed to agree with them, telling people to work from home if they could”.

It’s not just PCS that has rather salty language for the government. Civil Service World also noted the General Secretary of FDA (First Division Association), Dave Penmen, as saying, “The government has rightly abandoned its misguided target of getting 80% of civil servants back into offices by the end of the month, first announced only three weeks ago.” He also said “What’s really frustrating is that this shambles was entirely predictable and avoidable.”

The TUC, who’ve chosen the road of collaboration, should take on board the clear message from PCS, FDA, and the NEU, RMT and other unions. That message is that profit can go hang if it means that members are being treated, to quote Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods’, and that we will not let them ‘kill us for their sport’.

Floyd Codlin (PCS Arms & PCS Culture GEC (honorary position) (PC)

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