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Fran Heathcote

Fran Heathcote. Photo: Facebook

We won’t accept more cuts, says Fran Heathcote, National President of the Public and Communication Services Union, and calls on the whole trade union movement to step up the fight against the Tories

The fact that civil servants, like all our other public-sector colleagues, stepped up during the pandemic and, in the most difficult circumstances, kept the country running should surprise no-one. That is what we do year in and year out. 

Now, without consultation with civil-service unions and even without informing departmental heads, the Tories have announced they intend to cut 91,000 jobs over the next three years to bring numbers down to 2016 levels.

Multi-millionaire Rees-Mogg, Johnson and other senior Tories have been on a propaganda offensive for weeks now, blaming our members for delays in passports, driving licenses and tests, repeating the old ‘efficiency’ mantra and threatening privatisation. The real problem is a lack of properly trained staff, insufficient investment and demoralising attacks on pay, terms and conditions. None of this is an accident, but is the now familiar strategy in which governments set up public services for failure, before claiming that only the private sector can ‘turn things round’, and selling off what is profitable to their friends while cutting or simply destroying the rest.  

It is always the working class who suffer from these cuts to services, with less access to jobcentres, courts and so on. Rees-Mogg’s claim that these efficiencies can be implemented without such cuts is a downright lie. In 2003, Gordon Brown announced the slashing of 104,000 civil-service jobs, as behind him New Labour MPs squealed approval and waved Order Papers. The ‘plan’ was not just to cut jobs and services, but to hand our assets in the form of estates to the profiteers. 

Under Cameron, May and Johnson, the austerity programme ramped up the assault with devastating consequences for the unemployed, disabled and the ‘working poor’, including the thousands of our members forced to claim the same benefits that we administer, and who are forced to access foodbanks in the same communities in which they work and live. 

The Tories claim these new cuts are not ideological, but of course they are. Cuts are a political choice in the sixth wealthiest country in the world. It is absurd to argue that what is needed cannot be delivered: properly staffed public services with fairly paid and fully trained staff to deliver the services that people need and deserve.

United resistance is needed

PCS fought those cuts and we will resist these ones too. We have convened an emergency national executive committee this week, and will present to our annual delegate conference the following week a campaigning programme of initiatives, including coordination with other unions and industrial action when necessary.  

The lessons of the past decades need to be taken on board by our movement. These cuts, like those in The National Health Service and local government, do not happen in isolation, but are part of a coordinated and deliberate strategy carried out by the Tories in order to fulfil their aim of ‘reducing the state’, i.e., cutting or privatising the services working people rely on for a civilised existence, in order to maximise profits.

We should be open. The Tories, since the days of Thatcher, have had success in dividing our movement and picking off isolated groups of workers one-by-one. We say, no more. These attacks come from the same source, and PCS’s socialist leadership has consistently argued at the TUC, over the past twenty years, that our movement must build coordinated campaigns across the public sector, including joint industrial action to defeat these attacks.

These attacks and the cost-of-living crisis, give the trade-union movement a real opportunity to launch a serious fightback against the Tories. We must make sure we fight for our members and our class with determination and unity. PCS will set out its strategic response to these latest attacks, but we will also argue for, and demand, a united response from the trade-union movement, starting with doing all we can to build the best possible turn-out for the TUC demonstration in London on 18 June. See you there.

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Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing [email protected] Now is the time!

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